Science of Performance: Morning Workouts Worth Sleep Deprivation? Pt 6

By Dr. G. John Mullen, DPT, CSCS of Swimming Science and Center of Optimal Restoration , Creator of Swimmer's Shoulder System, Swimming Science Research Review, Swimming World correspondent

SANTA CLARA, California, April 16. THE final installment of the sleep and swimming review is here! If you have endured this six-part series, you appreciate the problems associated with sleep deprivation and hopefully realize, enduring sleep deprivation is not worth the consequences!

Unfortunately, for swimming, like every sport, double practices are common and likely necessary for most success. This makes sleep scheduling and planning important key for obtaining enough sleep. Once again, try a few of these tips at once and monitor your energy levels and improvement before starting something else!

Nutritional Strategies to Help Improve Sleep:

Try L-Tryptophan for minimal sleep disturbances. L-Tryptophan is an amino acid which converts serotonin in the brain. Low amounts of tryptophan are associated with sleep disturbances (Markus 2005). L-Tryptophan ingestion has encouraged earlier sleep by 45% (Hartmann 1982). Diets high in L-Tryptophan have resulted in decreased ratings of sleepiness throughout the day (Markus 2005). Foods rich in L-Tryptophan include milk products, meat, eggs and green leafy vegetables. Eggs and whole milk products are digested slowly and therefore may supply amino acids over a longer period, attenuating muscle protein degradation during sleep.

High Glycemic Index (GI) Snacks before bed! In studies comparing the same amount of calories, the group who consumed a higher GI snack before bed (4 hours prior to sleep) resulted in 48.6% quicker sleep (Afanghi 2007). Some feel insulin helps muscles uptake amino acids, specifically branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) and increasing L-Tryptophan concentration. Consuming a meal 4 hours prior to sleep is difficult for some swimmers, but having dinner by 7 pm and consuming BCAA before bed appear ideal. I would also note that work examining the insulin index also demonstrates that some of the amino acids in animal products alone can be highly insulinogenic, and therefore if you're on a low-carbohydrate diet these same effects can probably be achieved through selection of protein sources such as whey alone.

Eat Montmorency tart cherries! Montmorency tart cherries may improve sleep due to their melatonin content. In a recent study, Howatson (2012) noted 7 days of montmorency cherry consumption increased urinary melatonin, time in bed, and total sleep time (Howatson 2012).

Drink German chamomile tea! German chamomile tea is a mild sedative which acts on benzodiaphene (BZs) receptors (Medina 1998). Chamomile tea effectively induced sleep in 10 of 12 patients with myocardial issues (Gould 1973).

Make sure your final meal is easily digestible. Gas and bloating can impair sleep, as you know!

Don't chug water! Many athletes consume copious water, unfortunately late night water consumption results in frequent trips to the bathroom. Instead, drink a chilled glass of water before you brush your teeth in the morning.

Moderate your caffeine. Like everyone, I've had my fluctuations with caffeine consumption. Caffeine, a methylxanthine, is found in numerous plants and prevents sleep. The closer one consumes caffeine to sleep, the greater it impairs sleep. However, habitual caffeine consumers demonstrate the lowest sleep disturbance to caffeine.

Consider magnesium glycinate or malate consumption. Our society is depleted of magnesium, specifically from minimal magnesium in our soil. Supplementing with up to 800 mg of magnesium glycinate or malate may prevent sleep deprivation-induced declines in anaerobic threshold and peak oxygen uptake (Tanabe 1998).

Sleep is something that we should all strive to improve if we value our health and performance. Of the above recommendations, try a few of them if you struggle — some may help, some may not, and only you can decide which are sustainable and effective for you.

For high-level athletes sleep is essential for health and performance. If you are not getting enough sleep, try a few of these tips for sleep elongation. If you achieve adequate sleep, try improving the sleep quality with a few of the nutritional tips. Lastly, continue to monitor your sleep quality. This is possible with a simple sleep journal where you rate your sleep from 1 – 10 (1 being the worst and 10 being the best) every morning.

A more precise method is with the use of a sleep manager, like the zeo sleep aid.

Good luck and sleep well!

Dr. G. John Mullen is the owner of of the Center of Optimal Restoration and creator of Swimming Science. He received his doctorate in Physical Therapy at the University of Southern California. G. John has been featured in Swimming World Magazine, Swimmer Magazine, and the International Society of Swim Coaches Journal.

Full series
Sleep Deprivation Part 1
Sleep Deprivation Part 2
Sleep Deprivation Part 3
Sleep Deprivation Part 4
Sleep Deprivation Part 5