You know the scenario…
You just finished a late-night rec game.
Your blood is pumping,
Your heart is racing,
Your muscles are fired up,
You’re still sweating as you get in your car and go home.
You’re amped up.
And it’s 11 pm.
And you need to work tomorrow.
You know you need to hit the sac as soon as you get home.
You quietly sneak into your house,
turn on the lights of your front landing,
and your living room.
You prepare a monster post-game meal,
turn on the TV,
flip through insta and facebook,
check your texts,
then you hit the sac.
And then you just lay there.
Still fired up,
blood still coursing through your veins,
your post-game meal sitting like a lump in your gut,
and your mind thinking about everything you need to do tomorrow.
You look at the clock…it’s 1 am.
down to 6 hours of sleep.
You try to count sheep….
You look at the clock again, it’s 2:10.
You finally get to sleep and then BOOM!
Off goes the alarm.
Time to get up.
You feel like garbage.
“Friggin’ late-night games”
The truth is that these games are going to happen.
And the truth is that your body is not prepared for sleep 1 hour after a game.
Your adrenaline is up,
your body temperature is up,
you likely eat a big meal afterward,
and you probably look at your phone and watch some TV too.
All of this makes for a recipe for a sleep disaster.
So, how do we fight back against this?
Well, let’s first look at how sleep can affect your ability to perform on the court and even, how much fat you gain.
The truth about sleep
I don’t think I need to sit here and tell you about how important sleep really is.
A few poor nights of sleep will tell you just how much you need it.
There are, however, a few issues with a lack of sleep that I think really pertain to this article, so let’s dive in.
Sleep and sport performance
Good athletes sleep.
Like 7, 8, 9 + hours per night.
And although the thought of getting 9 hours of sleep after a late-night game is not real life right now….even 7 or 8 will suffice.
Here’s what the research tells us:
Athletes that sleep 9 hours per night have less than a 20% chance of injury,
give them 8 hours and that chance of injury goes to 35%,
give them 7 hours and that goes up to 60%,
give them 6 and it goes up to over a 70% chance of injury.
I’m sure you see the trend here…
So, the less you sleep you get, the more likely you are to get injured.
No big revelation here…
Next, not only does a lack of sleep detract from your ability to be safe on the court, ice or field, it also decreases your performance.
Sleep less than 8 hours per night and especially less than 6 hours per night and you get the following:
Time to exhaustion drops by 10-30%
Aerobic capacity drops
Muscle strength drops
Vertical jump (aka. muscle power) drops
Lactic acid builds up faster
Your body’s ability to cool itself during exercise also drops
Interestingly enough, one study done on NBA players found the following:
Athletes that slept more than 8 hours per night had a 12% increase in minutes played,
a 29% increase in points/minute,
a 2% increase in 3-point percentage,
a 9% increase in free-throw percentage.
Conversely, athletes that slept less than 8 hours per night had a 37% increase in turnovers,
and a 45% in fouls committed.
Finally, a good snooze after a game increases recovery,
builds your muscles back up,
and stocks up the fuels you used in your game.
Sleep and fat gain
Here’s the other thing…
Sleep too little and you get fatter.
Research consistently shows that sleeping less than the recommended 7-9 hours per night makes you more fat.
A lack of sleep influences two of your primary hunger hormones.
Leptin and ghrelin.
Leptin is a hormone that says “You’re good. You can stop eating. You’re satisfied now”.
Ghrelin says “Keep eating. You’re still hungry. That cake is delicious…eat more”
What we see with a lack of sleep is an increase in ghrelin (aka. the “eat more” hormone) and a decrease in leptin (aka. the “satiety” hormone).
So, without even thinking about it, you will eat more when you are underslept.
And not only that, the type of food you want changes too.
One study took two groups of individuals to a buffet.
One group had sufficient sleep.
The other group did not.
Guess what happened?
The group that had sufficient sleep ate more meat, vegetables, nuts and fruits.
The group that had insufficient sleep ate more desserts.
So, not only do you eat more when you are underslept,
you eat more sweets, treats and desserts.
The post-game sleep battle
So, that’s why we need sufficient sleep,
but how do you do it when you are fired up after a game?
Well, my friend, you came to the right place.
Here are 12 tips you can use to combat the post-game sleep battle:
1. No phone or TV post-game
I know this is tough as your buddies may be texting, you need to text your wife to tell her you’re on your way home, you want to check facebook, etc.
But, fight it.
Tell your wife before the game that you’ll be home at 11 pm and if anything changes you’ll let her know.
Save the phone for emergencies only.
Save the texts for the next morning.
And don’t turn the TV on when you get home either.
Your phone and your TV have blue light that decreases melatonin (your sleep hormone that increases when it gets dark out) and makes it hard to fall asleep.
So, ditch the phone and ditch the TV post-game.
This is such a tough one for weekend warriors.
A post-game brew is just part of the ritual,
part of connecting with your squad,
plus the peer pressure is immense.
Ideally, no alcohol post-game is recommended as it interferes with sleep,
but a post-game single or double would be the maximum.
3. Turn on as few lights as possible when you come home
Again, light decreases melatonin output.
Your body thinks it’s still daytime when light is hitting the surface of your skin.
So, minimize the lights you turn on when you come home.
And, if possible, dim the ones you do turn on.
4. Eat a little snack
Eating post-game is cool.
I am not going to suggest that you don’t.
The issue comes when the meal is too large,
and when it has lots of processed sugars in it.
If you can have a little snack ready for you when you get home that includes some meat, veggies and a small amount of carbs, do your thing.
Again, just watch for the sugars – they can jack you up.
And watch the size of the meal – that can give you indigestion, make you bloated, make you uncomfortable and make you unable to sleep.
5. Do something parasympathetic
There are two divisions of the autonomic nervous system (the involuntary command system of our bodies that keeps us alive).
The sympathetic nervous system
and the parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system is your “fight or flight” system that ramps things up.
If you need to run,
if you need to fight,
if you need to get jacked up,
your sympathetic nervous system will turn your engines up and get you going.
This is also the system that is active when you’re playing your game.
The parasympathetic nervous system is your “rest and digest” system that slows things down.
If you need to fall asleep,
if you need to digest the meal you just ate,
If you need to calm down and relax,
your parasympathetic nervous system will turn the dial down.
So, after a game you want to transition from sympathetic to parasympathetic.
Here’s a few options:
6. Read something
Or if you really want to turn up the sleep factor, read something boring.
Don’t read something sport-related on your ipad either.
Just a plain old book will suffice.
7. Take a hot bath or shower
Many times people think that the heat from the bath soothes them to sleep…
not the case.
It’s actually the drop in temperature that you experience after a hot bath or shower that aids in sleep.
So, a quick bath or shower will drop your body temperature and make it easier for you to sleep.
We’ll explain this more below…
8. Turn your clock away from you
When in bed, clock anxiety is a real thing.
As in, “oh man, it’s 2 am. Looks like I’m down to 5 hours of sleep”
Just face it the other way and eliminate the temptation to look at it.
This will also help reduce light exposure.
Which leads to our next point…
9. Make your room as dark as possible
Again, light is stimulating.
The less light in your room, the better.
Yeah, that means your phone too!
10. Drop your room temperature if possible
Humans evolved to fall asleep when it got dark outside.
Guess what else happened at this time?
The temperature went down.
So, just like making your room dark aids in sleep,
so to does dropping the temperature a bit.
The ideal temperature is around 18 degrees Celsius, but any drop in temperature is a step in the right direction.
11. Don’t lie in bed awake
The anxiety of not being able to sleep makes it harder to sleep.
If you still can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes of being in bed, get up and do something relaxing until you feel tired.
12. Get some damn sleep the next night!
Need I say more?
Avoid pre-game caffeine and nicotine as they are stimulants that will keep you awake.
Avoid pre-game naps after 3 or 4 pm.
Get 30 minutes of sun exposure on game days (and all days for that matter).
Sleep is a pillar of good health, fitness and performance.
Often times, we believe that training and eating are the most important considerations,
and don’t get me wrong, they are super important.
But, not including sleep in the conversation leaves a whole ton of opportunity for lost fat,
and increased mojo on the table.