dealing with sleep problems before the race

If you’ve ever had a big day ahead of you, you’ll know that feeling when you get into bed but you just can’t get to sleep. You might be overwhelmed with mental chatter and visualising how the big day might go, all of which are boosting your adrenaline and elevating your heartbeat, thus preventing you to fall asleep and get proper rest. Grrr!

I know – I’ve been there too. However, I’ve found that there are a few rituals, which if implemented correctly, help me get a good night’s sleep the night before a race. Although the name might deceive you, none of these rituals are woo-woo – they are in fact practical tips you can easily incorporate into your routine to feel refreshed, rested and ready to give it your best out there on the race course.


5 Ways to Hack Your Sleep

These are the five shortcuts or bio-hacks that have helped me get a restful sleep when I’m super excited:

1. Foam Roll and Do Yoga Just Before Heading to Bed

Although foam rolling at the last minute probably won’t make a huge impact on your mobility, it will relax you and loosen up some of the tension and excitement you’re feeling. If you’re not foam rolling daily, you should seriously consider it – done daily in the couple of weeks ahead of a race, it’s pure magic.

You can also do yoga or at least some yoga stretches to further reduce tension throughout your body and to clear your mind as well. Online you can find some easy stretch routines that can also be done in bed so you can stay in Shavasana until you fall asleep.


2. Have Your Carbs for Dinner

This is a beautifully simple hack which I rely on day-to-day to time my sleep and get to the state of instant snoozing, especially before the race. If you’re not already familiar with Keto or fat-fuelled nutrition, these diets advise not to eat carbs during the day and to instead have a small carb re-feed at dinner time. This restores some of the glycogen stores, depleted by fat consumption and activity, and it helps your body produce serotonin, which in itself will allow you achieve a better sleep. Have your carb re-feed an hour or two before bed and you will be out in a matter of minutes.


3. Ingest Magnesium and Melatonin

The former is a mineral which most people, athletes especially, are highly deficient in. Unfortunately, magnesium is an essential ingredient for almost 300 chemical reactions throughout the body. It doesn’t just boost your recovery, improve cardiovascular system and bone growth but it’s also a catalyst to help you improve your sleep. It is often used to treat insomnia in elderly patients and it’s also given as a supplement to the younger crowd whose sleep might be delayed because of the blue light emitted by screens of their favourite gadgets. I usually take between 600 and 800 mg nightly and it gets me drowsy and happily ready for sleep within 30 minutes.

Melatonin is the well known hormone regulating your circadian rhythm by helping the body anticipate changes in surrounding light. You’re probably never in bed as early as you are the night before the race, so the production and release of this hormone might be timed a little bit off. Stress doesn’t help here. Taking a melatonin supplement orally or through a patch can improve your sleep, however you should start using it at least a couple of days before the night of the race to give your body some time to adjust. An average amount of melatonin to take is around 5mpg, however depending on your body composition it could be up to 20mg. Don’t take this for at face value and consult an expert such as your local pharmacologist.


4. Perform Breathing Based Relaxation Exercises While in Bed

What works incredibly well (in case the first 3 things didn’t help you… really?) are breathing techniques performed when you’re already in bed and ready to sleep. The pranayama protocol featuring timed breathing is especially popular, and it also appears as a slightly modified version under the name ‘box breathing’. Box breathing was developed by the Sealfit founder Mark Divine (who explains it in this video) and it should put you into a zen state. That annoying internal chatter? Gone. You can rely on this technique beyond sleep hacking and use it in any stressful situation you’re forced to deal with. Box breathing is what Navy Seals do during combat situations in order to stay focused and to prevent themselves panicking.

Additionally, you could try nostril breathing techniques with pranayama/box breathing. The key here is to inhale through left nostril and exhale through the right one. After repeating this a few times you should notice a sensation of drowsiness and relaxation – the best precursor to sound sleep.

Our editor Helena is a fan of Shavasana – a cyclical body part based relaxation technique, which does wonders too – hopefully she will publish a how-to soon!


5. If You Cannot Beat It – Join It.

This is your last resort. You might have already experienced that ridiculous state where you try to fall asleep so hard you actually end up making yourself more awake than before. Well, sometimes, you can trick and rewire your psyche by simply accepting that you are not going to sleep tonight. This is harder to do than it sounds, because you literally have to give up trying and accept that your won’t be rested and ready to perform tomorrow. By doing this you will distract and relax your mind – thoughts will wonder freely, which will then result in a more natural crash into sleep.


In addition to all of these tiny tweaks you should make sure that you’ve already got the basics of the sleeping etiquette covered. This includes getting your Z’s in a quiet and dark place with just a little bit of chill in the air. If, like me, you can’t make make your sleeping space quieter, try using earplugs. For me they’re a lifesaver the night before a race.

I hope these sleep hacks help you get the rest you deserve. Let us know what other tricks you use in order to achieve a Zen-like state and replenish your energy for the next day’s race.

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