In Part 1 of this sleep for athletes mini-series, we discussed the importance of sleep for recovery, mental focus, and athletic performance. [Read: Roger Federer Gets 11 Hours of Sleep a Night. As an Athlete, You Should Too.] But what if you don’t get that much, or you have a crazy day that makes it impossible to get to bed early?

Can I catch-up on sleep? Actually, yes you can! You can think of sleep as being a bank and lack of sleep causing you to be in debt.  Every night you decrease the number of minutes or hours of sleep you are going further into sleep debt.  The good news is you can repay that debt by either catching up on sleep by going to bed earlier and/or sleeping in (if you can), or you can try napping.  Yes it is okay to nap! If you are losing sleep at night, taking a nap during the day is a great way to aid in mental and physical recovery to have you at your best for show day. So find a quiet area of the barn or trailer and get your nap on! Here are some tips for napping:

  • Aim for a 30 minute nap (if your nap is too short you likely won’t feel refreshed or recovered, and if your nap is too long you run the risk of affecting your evening sleep).
  • Try to nap in the early to mid-afternoon (before 3pm).  Avoid late afternoon or early evening naps.
  • You want to boost your waking process from the nap in order to feel alert and refreshed.  Two strategies that can help are having caffeine before your nap, or washing your face with cold water immediately after your nap.

[Read: Boyd Martin on Three Cross-Discipline Exercises for Strength]

Finally let’s look at a few tips for better sleep:

  • Optimize your bedroom (cool temperature, dark room, noise /distraction free, heavy duvet, supportive pillows…)
  • Try to stick to a consistent sleep schedule (consistent waking and bedtime – even on weekends and when traveling)
  • Create a calming bedtime routine (avoid caffeinated drinks, alcohol, large meals before bed, limit screen time, dim lights, reading, take the TV out of the bedroom, soft music…)
  • Try a relaxation technique such as meditation, visualization, positive imagery, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or light stretching to calm your mind if you are feeling anxious the night before show day
  • When traveling with barn mates bring your own pillow, and think about using ear plugs and/or eye masks to help you fall asleep and drown out potential snoring or sleep talking roomies!

…and to all a good night!

Meryl Wheeler is a former equestrian athlete who has a passion for physical fitness and health. As a Certified Athletic Therapist and adult educator, she brings her knowledge of the musculoskeletal system and injury prevention to create effective online strength and conditioning programs designed to help clients realize the power, opportunity, and potential they have to reach their own health and wellness goals. To learn more or learn how to enter Meryl’s 6-week Ride Strong fitness program, follow her on Facebook and Instagram

Marshall, G. J.G., & Turner, A. N. (2016). The importance of sleep for athletic performance.
Strength and Conditioning Journal, 38(1), 61–67. doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000189
Walters P.H. (2002). Sleep, the athlete and performance. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 32, 17–24.
Halson S.L. (2014). Sleep in elite athletes and nutritional interventions to enhance sleep. Sports Medicine, 44, 13–23. doi: 10.1007/s40279-014-0147-0
Newmark T. (2012). Cases in visualization for improved athletic performance. Psychiatric Annals, 42(10), 385-387.