How to sleep yourself sharp

Anxiety, aching limbs, lack of energy, weight gain and a loss of muscle mass are all side effects of sleep deprivation. Matt Pears, Leeds United's strength and conditioning coach, explains how to avoid insomnia...

How much sleep should a player aim to get?
Aim for seven to nine hours – certainly no less than six. During this time your body will repair muscle tissue and replenish energy stores. It promotes growth hormones and decreases the stress hormone, cortisone.

What can you eat and drink to encourage sleep?
Eat low-to-medium glycemic index carbohydrate foods with a little bit of protein. The protein is a source of tryptophan, which is an amino acid that helps to make the hormones serotonin and melatonin, which promote sleep. A source of calcium also helps tryptophan to do its work. So the best things to eat would be fruit, peanut butter on toast, unsalted nuts or wholegrain cereal with milk.

What practical things can I do?
Try to stick to a regular bedtime. Your body will adapt to a routine and become sleepy itself. You need to programme your body clock.

How can I make my conditions more conducive to sleep?
Get your environment right: make sure it’s dark, quiet, relaxing and comfortable. Try not to watch TV in bed because it can stimulate the mind.

Is there anything a bit off the wall that I can do?
Contract and relax. For example, scrunch up your toes for a few seconds and release, and then work the calves. Switch the muscle onto its maximum and then relax it. Do this all the way down from your head to your toe. 

And if that doesn’t work….
Don’t force it – it will start a viscous cycle. If you haven’t fallen to sleep after 20 minutes, get up, go for a stroll, read a book, watch a bit of TV if you have to – wait for your body to feel tired.

What can I eat or drink to liven up my body after a bad night’s sleep?
Caffeine or a high glycemic index carbohydrate – like Powerade – will give your body quick-acting sugars and the caffeine will stimulate adrenaline and reaction speed. White bread is a good source.

After playing, how can I calm my body down for rest to help with future performance?
Warm down properly with a light jog and stretching. This helps to decrease neural activity levels and release tension in the muscles.

Can naps help aid my performance?
I wouldn’t encourage napping because sleep is a cycle and naps will affect the body’s natural rhythm. Only take a nap if you’re desperate.

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