From what I have heard, everyone and their mother loves to sleep. The problem is that we can never seem to truly get the rest we need. With that being said, I am here to share with you a simple strategy to increase your ability to fall asleep and, more importantly, stay asleep. This simple strategy is the 10, 3, 2, 1, 0 rule, and it could not be easier to follow! This rule describes a set of guidelines to help us get to bed and high-quality sleep.
Before we dive into that, what’s the deal with sleep anyway?
Sleep As A Recovery Tool
Getting enough quality rest is king when it comes to recovery. So much is going on behind the scenes that we don’t notice during a good night’s that rest helps repair our body for the challenges of tomorrow. Sleep has a direct effect on a number of recovery factors. These include tissue repair, energy balance, metabolism function, appetite, weight, and cognition. I have been in and out of dozens of Athletic Training rooms full of the most nifty recovery tools on the market, and the secret I learned from every one is that none of those tools are as good as sleep. And get this – it’s FREE! When I was an Athletic Trainer, so many athletes I worked with were burning the midnight oil and not getting nearly enough sleep. Couple lack of sleep with all the training and stress of competition, and they had a recipe for injury.
A study from The Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics looked at adolescent athletes who have a high stress and training load. Those students with less than 8 hours of sleep a night were 1.7x more likely to suffer an injury compared to those who had at least 8 hours. With every year they progressed, they faced an additional 1.4x chance of injury if they did not get adequate rest. This trend seems to continue; just because we might not all be athletes now does not mean the stress and training load stops impacting us. In fact, the older we get, the more sleep we need to get back to 100% each day. While working crazy hours in the NFL, sure enough I developed back pain at the age of 24. Those constant late nights made their impact that I couldn’t escape.
Getting to bed is important to help keep us injury free and help us recover from training. What else? How about that big organ in our skull? You guessed it – lack of sleep decreases our brain’s effective cognition. I bet you know the feeling; just go back to college before a big exam and remember how much of a zombie you were after an all nighter. For me, I could not have thought my way out of a children’s sudoku puzzle if my life depended on it. Glad I used the sleepless cramming strategy before some of my biggest exams… not.
The more stressors you have and the higher your training load, the more hours of sleep you need to recuperate. The daily physical and mental stress is dealt with at night when our parasympathetic nervous system is rolling. It is beyond the scope of this article to take a look at each and every variable, so a simple rule of thumb is the more sleep the better when it comes to recovery, injury rates, and cognition.
You are probably thinking, “Chris, is my sleep messed up?” Let’s talk about everyone’s favorites: averages and stats. The average person in America right now is getting right around 6.8 hours of sleep a night. In the 1940s, we were getting almost an hour more. Why is that, you might ask? It is likely due to a multitude of issues, but I wouldd be willing to bet that technology is a large reason. We have so much more access to our work, our problems, and our entertainment than we did then, and recovery indirectly takes a backseat. How can you possibly get to bed if Kanye has a new tweet or that work email is still showing as unread? Here are some more sleep stats that might peak your interest into why this decline in sleep is important. You can find the full statistical write-up here.
- 50-70 million US adults have a sleep disorder (insomnia, sleep deprivation, snoring, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, etc.)
- 37% of 20-29 year olds report short sleep duration (<7 hours) compared to 40% of 40-59 year olds
- Recommened hours per night by age group
- Adults: 7-9 hours
- Teenagers: 8-10 hours
- 6-12 year olds: 9-12 hours
- 3-5 year olds: 10- 13 hours (naps included)
- 1-2 year olds: 11-14 hours (naps included)
- 48% of US adults report snoring (my fiancè can attest to this one…)
- 25 million US adults report obstructive sleep apnea, in which the muscles of the throat relax, causing a stop in breathing, which triggers the brain to throw yourself awake.
The 10, 3, 2, 1, 0 Rule
Alright gang, I know that now I have you thinking that there is no chance you are getting the sleep you need. But don’t fret! I have a simple tool for you to use to help you get to sleep and stay asleep. It’s called the 10, 3, 2, 1, 0 rule. Each of these simple rules is in reference to the time you want to get to bed. I will use 10 PM for the example below:
- 10 hours before bedtime: no more caffeine. Have that last cup of coffee by noon.
- 3 hours before bed time: we eat our least meal. A lot of our meals can be carb dense, and spiking the blood sugar can increase our alertness, which is the opposite of what we want at bedtime.
- 2 hours before bed: we are done with work for the day. At this point it is 8 pm, and that email and call can wait until tomorrow.
- 1 hour before bed: no more screen time. Put the phone down. The reason for this one is blue light. Our phone emits blue light, which is the same light we get from the sun. Evolutionarily, the sun is what wakes us up, and that is the opposite of what we want when we are trying to sleep. Pro-tip: purchase some blue light-blocker glasses to wear when looking at screens in the latter part of the day, or even all day.
- 0: This is the amount of time you are allowed to hit snooze on your alarm in the morning. Let’s shoot for consistent, uninterrupted sleep. If you are getting enough sleep through the night, you should wake feeling refreshed and ready to roll!
Now you are armed with the knowledge you need to start hacking your recovery. Start today and use the 10, 3, 2, 1, 0 rule to start taking control of your sleep, and get the true recovery you need.