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In most sports championships, teams and individuals compete against more and more difficult opponents until one comes out on top. For MMA fighters, this is the hope, but not always the reality. Sometimes championship bouts are determined more by hype than work. For every Brock Lesnar who comes in fighting for a championship, there are more Jon Fitches. These guys win difficult matches, but have to fight for the chance at a championship. So it’s clear that the road to a championship can be a long one.
If you’re an MMA fighter and working your way toward a championship, getting enough sleep and staying on top of your health are key to maintaining your training and focus. Here are a few ways you can ensure your sleep keeps you strong and fighting.
Although there are foods to help you sleep better, try to avoid eating right before bed. Multiple studies have found that those late-night snacks actually make you sleep poorly and inhibit the release of melatonin. On the other hand, consuming a high-carb meal about four hours before bedtime had study participants falling asleep faster when it was time to go to sleep. Try eating whole grains and greens for dinner and warm milk before bedtime if you’re having trouble falling asleep.
You’ll notice the difference above was in how close to bedtime the carbs were consumed, and you can only follow the pattern of eating four hours before bed if you know when you’re going to bed. Good sleep hygiene begins with setting a sleep schedule and sticking to it. That means sticking to it seven days a week, not just on weekdays. Studies found that staying up later on the weekend threw off circadian rhythms leading to poor sleep quality when returning to a weekday pattern.
When you get your body into a pattern you won’t even need an alarm clock to wake up, so you’ll never be jolted out of a dream. Instead, your body knows its pattern. It also helps you plan effective meal times and time for any alcohol or caffeine intake.
This is another guideline that relies on knowing when you’ll go to sleep. Doctors recommend avoiding caffeine for at least eight hours before bedtime. Caffeine stays in your system, creating alertness, for six to eight hours. When you drink caffeine late in the day it prevents your body from relaxing. In one study, the sleep disruption caused by caffeine was high whether the caffeine was consumed right at bedtime, three hours before or six hours before.
Alcohol causes similar disruptions. While some people swear by a “nightcap,” the fact is alcohol disrupts sleep significantly. It increases snoring and sleep apnea while dropping your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that lets your body settle in for the night. When you’re in training for a championship alcohol has one other significant effect on your body; it reduces your overnight levels of human growth hormone.
While the previous recommendations might not be much fun, this last one is: get outside. Increasing your exposure to sunlight during the day helps your natural circadian rhythms establish themselves. In one study, people who battled insomnia were exposed to bright daylight and the results were overwhelming. They fell asleep 83% faster and slept better and longer. In another study, two hours of daylight exposure per day increased sleep duration by over two hours.
Getting outside helps your body sleep at night, ups your levels of vitamin D and generally makes you feel good, improving your mood. It can also help you avoid afternoon naps that can impact your ability to sleep well at night. Just make sure you wear sunglasses so you don’t strain your eyes, especially during the summertime. If you experience any eye strain, make sure to get eye checkup or regular checkups as needed.
How you sleep is just as important as how you train. You train hard during the day. Let your body recover and reset at night by following these recommendations and living a healthy lifestyle.
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