Andrew Verdon examines sleep and its importance to your sailing performance.

Sleep is an important activity and crucial in the restorative process. Good sleep is vital for high performance; be it in business, sport or life. As the levels of physical and mental stress increase so does the amount of sleep we need.

However, sleep seems to be the first thing to suffer, with many of us burning the candle at both ends with late nights followed by poor quality sleep and early starts.

We go through four to five stages when we sleep. The deepest of these is called the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. We cycle through the stages up to six times per night and each cycle takes 90-120 minutes. This is important to maintain your natural sleep cycles and help you wake rested and refreshed.
Sleep can impact performance in three main ways:

1. Lost sleep reduces performance of the cerebral cortex in the frontal lobe. This area of the brain is responsible for the most important mental functions in sport Ð focus, concentration, flexibility, decision-making and information processing.

2. REM sleep helps consolidate activities, tasks and skills undertaken that day. It is indispensible for helping motor learning and skill acquisition. A good night's sleep after training is crucial.

3. Sleep releases growth hormones and aids recovery. During the rest received by the brain and body while asleep, the brain turns off the electrical and chemical connectors. Sleep is also crucial in bolstering the immune system.

To improve the quality of your sleep, follow these seven tips:

1. Have regular wake-up and retire-to-bed times and try to stick to them each day. The body loves consistency and your internal body clock or circadian rhythms will be set around this regular patterning.
Try to arise within a two-hour window even on weekends. This will reduce disruption to your body clock.

2. Avoid coffee, alcohol and other stimulants prior to retiring to bed. Look to reduce intake after 4-6pm.

3. Try to avoid high intensity exercise and large meals after 7pm.

4. Create a quiet time before bed. The aim is to reduce stressors and stimulators, allowing the mind time to wind down before bedtime. As with small children, create a bedtime ritual to allow sleep fullness to grow. Limit your exposure to loud music, large-screen television, bright lights, computers and work-related stress.

5. Your sleep environment is important, so aim for a quiet, dark, cool bedroom. Use quality linen, mattress and pillow if possible. If travelling to regattas consider taking your own linen and pillow. Avoid having laptops, TV, DVDs or gaming devices in the bedroom.

6. If you are not asleep in 30 minutes then get out of bed, read or undertake another quiet activity and return to bed when drowsy.

7. Do not nap within 1-3 hours of bedtime. If you do nap in the day then aim for 20-40 minutes around lunch time.

Follow these tips before and during regattas or sailing days to help your tactics, strategy and crew work during racing.

In a future column we will cover your best chances of sleep during offshore races.

Andrew Verdon is a strength and conditioning consultant to the Australian Sailing Team and runs the Beyond Exercise Studio in Sydney's Neutral Bay. He is currently racing in the Farr 40 class on Estate Master.

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