Editor’s note: Dana Santas aka “mobile manufactureris a certified strength and conditioning specialist and professional sports coach and author of Practical Solutions for Back Pain Relief.
How you sleep every night plays a vital role in your daily life. So it’s no surprise that professional sports teams use the expertise of sleep doctors to ensure their elite athletes get the quality sleep they need to perform at the highest level.
As a mobility coach working in Major League Baseball, I can attest that during spring training, when each day starts early, players and coaches alike fear losing an hour of sleep when we “jump ahead” to daylight saving time.
It is difficult not only for professional baseball players. A 2022 study found that more than 30% of adults report an hour of sleep deprivation—when you get less sleep than your body needs—while nearly 1 in 10 adults are two hours or more short of sleep.
Adults need at least seven hours of a good night’s sleep US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep deprivation and irregular sleep patterns are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, dementia, obesity, and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.
I asked two of my favorite MLB sleep experts to share some of the same advice they give professional baseball players so everyone can learn to sleep like a pro.
It is important to get the recommended seven plus hours of sleep each night.
According to the doctor, regular adherence to the schedule of sleep and wake-up times helps. Cherie D. Mah, sleep medicine physician specializing in elite athlete sleep and performance. “Our body loves regularity and will anticipate sleep with a regular sleep schedule,” Mach said. “As a reminder, set your daily alarm on your phone to go off 30 minutes before you want to start your calming routine.”
Pay attention to what your body and brain are telling you about your sleep schedule. Chris Winter, neuroscientist and host of the Sleep Unplugged podcast. “If you go to bed at 9pm but it always takes you two hours to fall asleep, why not try going to bed later?”
If you want to sleep better, you need an environment that promotes sleep. “Make your room look like a cave,” Mach said, “you want it to be really dark, quiet and cool, and also comfortable.”
She recommends getting a comfortable bed, using blackout curtains or eye masks, wearing earplugs, and setting the room temperature to between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit (about 16 to 19 degrees Celsius).
Do you judge how well you slept by how quickly you fell asleep?
The amount of time it takes you to fall asleep, called sleep latency rate, is an inaccurate measure of sleep quality, Winter says. How long it takes to fall asleep varies from person to person. Most sleep experts, including Winter, agree that the average sleep delay is between 5 and 20 minutes.
“Someone who sleeps ‘before their head touches the pillow’ is not a sleep champion, just as a person who can eat their entire lunch in three minutes is a highly nutritious eater,” Winter said. “Often this can be a wake-up call rather than a sign of good sleep.”
According to Mah, many people jump straight into bed at breakneck speed, which leads to sleep problems. She suggests that her clients develop a 20-30 minute calming routine to help them transition to sleep. Activities can include light yoga, breathing exercises and reading, “just not on a tablet or phone that emits disturbing blue light frequencies,” she said.
Both Mach and Winter report that getting people to refrain from using technology an hour before bed is the biggest challenge for their clients. “It’s hard to convince people to change behaviors that don’t cause immediate pain,” Winter added.
Despite the popularity of nightcap cocktails, Mach and Winter agree that alcohol interferes with sleep. They suggest avoiding it entirely, or at least not enjoying it a few hours before bedtime. They also recommend limiting your caffeine intake at the end of the day. “The half-life of caffeine is about six hours, so it’s best to cut it out in the late afternoon and early evening,” Mach added.
Along with all the other health benefits of regular exercise, research shows a strong link to better sleep, something Winter often points out to his clients. “If you’re complaining about your sleep and lack of exercise, you must have a good reason not to,” he said. “From a research standpoint, this is far more effective at deepening and improving sleep quality than any fancy gadget in existence today…and it’s free!”
There is one caveat: because some research has shown that the benefits of exercise are reduced and may even worsen the quality of sleep if done late at night, avoid vigorous exercise at least an hour before bedtime.
sleep deficit it is the difference between the amount of sleep needed and the amount of sleep actually received, accumulating over time if not compensated.
Many clients come to Mah without knowing the concept of sleep debt and the need to pay it off. What’s more, she said they’re surprised to find that “it often takes more than one night or one weekend to pay off accumulated sleep debt significantly.”
If you develop a sleep deficit, try going to bed an hour earlier or sleeping an hour later for several days—or as long as it takes for you to feel adequately rested.
Getting enough sleep is not only good for increasing daily alertness – 2020 study found that adults who got enough sleep were less likely to exhibit increased levels of inflammation that contributes to chronic disease.
At the same time, it’s important not to worry about sleep, Winter says. Focusing too much on things like “falling asleep faster” or the notion that people “can’t sleep” creates a sense of dread that he considers “highly problematic.”
“It is physiologically impossible not to sleep at all, so nature has covered you,” he said. “Control the variables that you can control, such as schedule, environment, etc., and put it out of your mind.”