Simple Ways to Improve your Sleep for Athletic Performance

The quality of our sleep has huge implications for athletic performance. Sleep is essentially the time when physical and mental recovery occurs. With good cognitive function and physical readiness being required for us to perform at our peak, it is obvious to see how it is important that we have good quality sleep to perform at our best.

Start listening to our circadian rhythms

“We are the supremely arrogant species; we feel we can abandon four billion years of evolution and ignore the fact that we have evolved under a light-dark cycle. What we do as a species, perhaps uniquely, is override the clock. And long-term acting against the clock can lead to serious health problems”

Professor Russell Foster

Our sleep patterns our guided by circadian rhythms, which essentially act as our body clock and determine the appropriate time for hormone release, which in the case of sleep is melatonin. With the invention of the light bulb and screens has come the ability to overcome this natural body clock. The presence of blue light reduces the secretion of melatonin, increasing alertness and keeping us awake. This delays the onset of sleep and reduces the amount of time that we spend asleep. By cutting out screens as you prepare to go to sleep you can ensure that your onset of sleep is faster and thus your time in bed is more efficient.

Think in cycles not hours

“Eight hours sleep is an average amount of sleep people get per night, and it somehow seems to have become a recommended amount – for everyone. The resultant pressure put on getting this is incredibly damaging and counterproductive to getting the right amount of sleep that we individually need”

Nick Littlehales

To maximise the quality of our sleep we should quantify sleep in terms of cycles, not hours. One sleep cycle lasts approximately 90 minutes and hence if we can time our sleep to wake up at the end of a cycle we can wake up at the lightest point of our sleep and feel refreshed and ready to start the day.

We should also not be too concerned about the amount of sleep we get each day but instead over the whole week. In his book “Sleep”, Littlehales suggests that we should be getting 35 cycles per week, averaging 5 cycles a day, which works out as 7 hours 30 minutes. This approach is much more achievable than consistently hitting 8 hours which can be quite pressuring and stressful and a cycle approach is reflective of how we actually sleep. Littlehales says that this approach reduces the stress hormones released from struggling to sleep and allows us to get effective rest and recovery.

Apps like Sleep Cycle ensure that your alarm wakes you up at the lightest point of sleep possible meaning that you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to start the day.

Be more consistent

Our body adapts to the time we fall asleep and thus by being more consistent, we can fall asleep quicker and ensure the time that we spent in bed is efficient. Not only is our sleep more efficient when we are consistent, but we also get more slow-wave and REM sleep – the times when physical and mental recovery occurs respectively. This allows us to maximise the benefits of training and perform at our best. 

Laura Kline, Rewire Athlete, tells us that by developing a consistent routine she has been able to ensure she gets adequate sleep. “By 8:00 I have my magnesium drink and try to limit my screen time. I aim to be in bed by 9:30 – I find that following a set schedule makes a difference as my body knows it’s time to shut down.” Laura says that by doing this she can typically fall asleep within minutes and on the inevitable days that she can’t follow her routine she notices a difference the next day. 

Optimising our sleep is not necessarily about getting more sleep, but about making the time that we spend in bed as efficient as possible. Only by working to improve the way that we sleep can we truly allow for sufficient recovery to develop our athletic performance.

Further Reading:

Blue light from light-emitting diodes elicits a dose dependent suppression of melatonin in humans
West et al.
Journal of Applied Physiology, 2011

Sleep: Change the way you sleep with this 90 minute read
Nick Littlehales

New Feature: Sleep Consistency – Why We Track it, How Do You Compare?
Whoop

‘Arrogance’ of ignoring need for sleep
James Gallagher

The High-Pressure Lifestyle of an Elite Athlete and the Techniques used to Combat Stress

An athlete’s life is fairly unique when compared to the general population. Apart from the obvious exchange of a suit for a tracksuit, their objectives are different too. For many athletes, their efforts accumulate and build up to a major event at the end of a cycle. This could be the Olympics or World Cup every four years or a league final at the end of a year. In this crucial event, it is imperative that they perform to the best of their ability. Their performance on that day not only affects them but also all those that have helped them get to that point: coaches, sponsors, family, support staff and fans all rely on their success to varying degrees in addition to the athlete themselves.

An athlete needs to be at peak health at all times. This means complete focus on everything that they put into and do to their body. Training routines and nutrition plans are regimented and there are limited opportunities to relax this. Lots of sleep is needed to ensure recovery in order to perform and benefit from the next day of training. This regimented lifestyle as well as the reliance from others creates an inevitable sense of pressure. And from pressure comes stress. As they approach a big event an athlete needs focus, and stress does not always help the athlete achieve this.

Whilst sports psychologists might be in place, some things can simply impede performance. Be that impending parenthood, illness, or the death of a loved one. We’ve seen this before, in the 2016 Australian Open Final, Andy Murray looked visibly distracted and lost in straight sets. Why? His wife, Kim, was about to give birth to their first child, whilst he was on the other side of the world. These kinds of distractions can be almost impossible to resist, and whilst it is more than understandable to be distracted by the idea of imminently becoming a father, we can still look for ways of keeping focus even at the most challenging of times.

In his autoethnography, Bradford Cooper talks about the mental toughness needed to overcome setbacks and frustrations during the Race Across America in which he was part of a 2-man team. These setbacks included needing to cover his teammate’s night pull after just after coming off a 5-hour pull, as well as being given the wrong directions by his daughter and having to turn round to get back on track. These kinds of setbacks cause frustration, mental fatigue and stress but with the right training, the effects of it can be minimised.

To stay in control in times of pressure and stress, athletes spend time practising mindfulness. Mindfulness practices help an athlete stay in control at times when they need it most. It has been shown that by practising meditation, stress levels can be reduced allowing for increased focus and concentration. Those regularly using meditation have also been shown to have improved sleep including more time spent in deep sleep and increased hormone release allowing for better recovery. Athletes also benefit from spending time during mindfulness to visualise success and create goals, allowing in turn for increased motivation and work ethic to develop their athletic performance. A recent study also showed that the use of binaural beats helps to counteract the effects of mental fatigue. Their findings demonstrate that binaural beats are an effective technique alongside mindfulness at enhancing cognitive control.

Practising mindfulness can help an athlete get into the ‘flow’, which is poetically described by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as a state of being ‘completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.’ This is a state we have likely all experienced at some point in our life, where we become incredibly productive. Whilst this state might come and go naturally with motivation, practising mindfulness allows us to maintain a state of ‘flow’ for longer. The benefits of being in this state to an athlete are evident, with the athlete being in an optimal state to train and reap the resulting benefits whilst total focus is devoted to improving performance.

Click here find out about the mindset recovery system that we have built into Rewire.

Further Reading:

‘Changing Existence into Flow’
Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi

‘On-the-Spot Binaural Beats and Mindfulness Reduces the Effect of Mental Fatigue
Johanne Lundager Axelsen, Ulrich Kirk & Walter Staiano 
Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, 2020

‘Meditation and its regulatory role on sleep’
Ravindra P. Nagendra, Nirmala Maruthai & Bindu M. Kutty
Frontiers in Neurology, 2012

‘The Rise of Superman’
Steven Kotler

‘A 3000-mile tour of mental toughness: An autoethnographic exploration of mental toughness intra-individual variability in endurance sport’
K. Bradford Cooper, Mark R. Wilson & Martin I. Jones
International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 2018

‘Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density’
Hölzel et al.
Psychiatric Research: Neuroimaging, 2011

‘Self-reported mindfulness and cortisol during a Shamatha meditation retreat.’
Jacobs et al.
Health Psychology, 2013

Why Cognitive Training is the Next Big Development in Sports

In recent decades, the application and development of science in sports has boomed. Elite teams and athletes have sports scientists working with them to push limits further than ever before.

Perhaps one of the most interesting recent examples of this is the concept of marginal gains, an idea championed by Sir Dave Brailsford, former Performance Director of British Cycling and GM of Team Ineos. Marginal gains is the concept that it is possible to increase performance by 1% in many specific areas and these tiny improvements add up to create significant overall improvement. This philosophy aided in the incredible development of Team GB’s cycling team, changing them from a laughing stock to a thriving team that won 16 Gold medals across Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

Sir Dave Brailsford (left), the pioneer of the Marginal Gains Philosophy

Brailsford made changes across a wide array of areas previously thought unimportant in order to create these marginal gains. This included the team bus layout, introduction of antibacterial hand gel to reduce infection and illness and adaptations to the warm-up. These marginal gains accumulated and the significant improvement was indicated by the medal haul.

However, one seemingly neglected area of sports science so far has been cognitive training, despite how important mental toughness is perceived to be in sports. We are forever bombarded by quotes expanding on the idea of ‘mind over matter’ but little is done to actually train the mind. We need to train the mind to be more resilient to the mental fatigue that we will inevitably face in competition to improve decision making, reduce our perception of effort and enhance positive thinking and motivation.

Some athletes have already started on a journey of cognitive training. Tom Brady has used brain training to sharpen his mind, relax his brain post-game and to improve his sleep. He also uses it to build resilience to protect against future concussions.

Cognitive tasks like a Go/NoGo task can help athletes like Brady, who are tested under extreme pressure,to make smart split-second decisions. This has been shown in a study with fencers that showed that they had better reaction times in discriminative tests but not in simple reaction tests (Di Russo et al., 2006). This demonstrates that they have the ability to make good decisions consistently under pressure. 

Response inhibition tasks like the Stroop task can help to train our mental endurance and tolerance to mental fatigue. Mental Fatigue has been shown to significantly reduce endurance performance through an increase in RPE (Marcora et al., 2009). By performing cognitive training we can increase our tolerance to mental fatigue, reducing its negative effect. In fact, using Brain Endurance Training over a 12-week programme was shown to yield 3x the improvement in athletic performance in a time-to-exhaustion trial (Staiano et al., 2015).

Cognitive training creates huge improvements in performance. Its lack of adoption so far is somewhat nice to know as it shows that there are still boundaries to break in sport and I’m sure with adoption we will see records being broken even further. It also allows the introduction of new metrics. An objective mental stress test, yielding a mental stress score, will be able to assist with athlete monitoring above and beyond current subjective measures. Perception gap, a new metric that is part of the Rewire system, is a measure of the difference between Self-Rated RPE and objective work output with data from heart rate monitors and power meters. By tracking this you can measure your mental performance over time. The goal is to reduce the perception gap when under mentally fatiguing situations so that your mind is not a limiter to achieving your true athletic potential.

If we thought marginal gains were squeezing the last bit out of human performance, we were wrong. 10 years of science has already shown that cognitive training has the potential to yield huge improvements in athletic performance. 

Buckle up and get ready for the next wave of athletes to break records and achieve new heights in athletic performance powered by new brain training solutions hitting the market over the coming years.

Join our growing community on Instagram and subscribe to our newsletter to find out when Rewire will be available.

Studies Covered in Article for Further Reading

“Neural correlates of fast stimulus discrimination and response selection in top-level fencers”
by Francesco Di Russo, Francesco Taddei, Teresa Apnile and Donatella Spinelli
Neuroscience Letters, 2006

“Mental Fatigue impairs physical performance in humans”
by Samuele M Marcora, Walter Staiano and Victoria Manning
Journal of Applied Physiology, 2009

A Randomized Controlled Trial of Brain Endurance Training (BET) to Reduce Fatigue During Endurance Exercise” 
by Walter Staiano, Michele Merlini and Samuele M Marcora
Conference: ACSM Annual Meeting, 2015

Rewire Fitness Product Updates (Nov 21)

So many exciting things happening over at the Rewire HQ. Here’s a recap of new developments and opportunities from the last month.

We are very pleased and excited to announce that Dr. Walter Staiano has joined our team as our Rewire scientific advisor. As many of you already know, Walter is one of the leading researchers and experts in neurophysiology & brain endurance training (BET) and one of the founding researchers in the landmark study discovering BET back in 2009. Walter’s research has been featured in best selling sports performance books: Fitzgerald M. 2016,  How Bad Do You Want It?, Hutchinson A. 2018 Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human PerformanceZaichkowsky L.,Peterson D. 2018 The Playmaker’s Advantage. Most critically, Walter is also the leading expert in the practical application of the science working closing with olympic and world championship athletes and teams as well as the British Ministry of Defense. We are thrilled to be working with him closely on the Rewire product and can’t wait to share new developments over the coming months!

CES Unveiled Event in New York, NY

A few weeks ago we had the opportunity to exhibit our product at an invite-only press event in New York City hosted by the CES organization called CES Unveiled. We had a great time sharing the product with the press, investors and industry leaders at the gala event. We’ve also been invited to be part of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this coming January. Some press from the event below…

https://www.cta.tech/Resources/i3-Magazine/i3-Issues/2019/September-October/Mark-Chisholm-and-Jeremy-Snow

Patent-pending Rewire Fitness Wireless Brain Training Hardware

We’ve finalized our mechanical and hardware manufacturing specifications and have a beautifully designed brain endurance product in the works. If all goes well we aim to make this product available for pre-order by early next year with a target release date of March 2020.

Many athletes and coaches have been asking us when Rewire will be available for their particular sport and we’ve seen a wide variety of interest from athletes across many disciplines including: Triathlon, Skiing, Sailing, Swimming, Mountain Biking, Road Biking, Marathon Running, Weight training, Crossfit, Obstacle Course Racing, Semi Professional Football, Ultra Cycling, Amateur Boxing, Soccer, Spin Cycling, Personal Training, Wrestling, Rugby & Rowing to name a few 😉 Thank you so much for those that have reached out to us it has been very inspiring and helpful as we think through our long term roadmap plans. Though there are some details that remain confidential with our plans due to our patent pending status what we can say is that in addition to supporting competitive triathletes and cyclists in our very first release we will have some features that all athletes will be able to use from day 1 to improve their athletic performance. We can’t wait to share these details and thanks again for your interest and patience and stay tuned for more news to come as we lead up to launch.

Thanks all!

Rewire Team

INEOS 1:59 – A week on…

2019, so far, has been an incredible year of sport. The heroics of Ben Stokes in both the World Cup and Headingley Test. Huge comebacks in the Champions League knockout stages. Japan’s unexpected dominance in the pool stages of their home World Cup. And most recently, a weekend to remember in the marathon…Brigid Kosgei breaking the women’s record, taking a staggering 81 seconds off a 16 year record, and Eliud Kipchoge breaking the 2-hour marathon barrier.

I distinctly remember two years ago watching the Breaking2 attempt and being both amazed and upset about how close Kipchoge was to breaking 2 hours. It was incredible how much he actually knocked off the previous record, yet was only 1 second off the pace-per-mile to breaking 2 hours. However, this made the most recent attempt even more incredible. Kipchoge is relentless and with a goal in his sight he will never gave up. Almost uniquely, he is an athlete that is impossible not to like. A quiet man with a humble lifestyle and background, coupled with almost everything he says being a motivational quote makes him the ideal candidate for such a feat.

In life, the idea is to be happy. So, I believe in calm, simple, low-profile life. You live simple, you train hard and live an honest life. Then you are free.

Eliud Kipchoge

Following the record last weekend, a few things were thrown into controversy. The use of pacemakers, drafting and most notably: the shoes. Both Kipchoge and Kosgei were wearing models of Nike’s latest developments. Whilst Kosgei seemed to be wearing the commercially available Next% shoes (in accordance with IAAF rules), Kipchoge was wearing what Nike has called ‘A future version of Nike’s Next% marathon shoe’. The initial Vaporfly 4% were named due to the 4% improvement in running economy that they created on average. The Next% goes even further than this and Kipchoges mystery shoe, rumoured to be called alphaFLY, goes even further still. Some called the shoes a form of ‘Technical Doping’ giving athletes an unfair advantage due to the three individual carbon fibre plates and four individual cushioning pods to name just a few innovations each providing propulsion and economy to the runner’s stride.

Eliud Kipchoge (white vest) and his pacemaking team run through Vienna. The INEOS 1:59 Challenge, Vienna, Austria. 12 October 2019. Photo: Joe Toth for The INEOS 1:59 Challenge

For me, I have no problem with the development. In fact, I welcome it. Firstly as an unofficial record, the attempt is there to show that a sub-2-hour marathon is possible allowing other athletes to push to achieve and exceed this. Kipchoge said this himself: ‘I expect more people all over the world to run under two hours after today.’. Secondly, innovation in technology is a huge part of sport. Huge teams are behind every elite athlete. In 2018, the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team had around 950 employees working on the same goal of achieving the best car. Something they have just achieved for the sixth time on the trot, by winning their 6th Constructor’s title in a row after last weekend in Japan. Innovation allows this to be possible. Each of those employees is able to innovate and push technology further than ever – building on the idea of marginal gains. It allows creativity and competition between teams each pushing each other’s limits. This makes the races and season more interesting with teams like Mercedes being faster in the corners and teams like Ferrari being faster on the straights. Hopefully, companies like Adidas are able to catch up with Nike and start to compete with them. It would be great to see a ‘space race’ between companies like these to achieve new records. The technology used at an elite level also trickles down to the commercial consumer level improving lives for everyone.

The magnitude of this most recent record is huge. It sits alongside Roger Bannister’s 4 minute mile and the first sub-10 second 100m time recorded by Jim Hines with a time of 9.95 seconds. The interesting thing about both these records is that people once thought these barriers were unbreakable, and since then we’ve had Hicham El Guerrouj set a mile time of 3:43.13 and Bolt set a time of 9.58 seconds in the 100m – the barriers have been broken even further. Kipchoge’s record will be pushed further and hopefully in an official sense. I also hope Kipchoge takes the official record; he deserves it more than anyone right now, especially with his commitment and devotion to these unofficial records.

A lot has been said about the mindset of athletes like Kipchoge. Relentlessly devoted and focussed towards a goal. The mental aspect of performance is almost universally accepted as being a very important part, yet few people devote time to training their brain. Hopefully, as cognitive training comes more to the forefront of training, athletes will be able to reach higher heights than ever – pushing these records further than ever before. Evidence of the need for cognitive training in sports can be seen by the improvements in performance seen in studies where Brain Endurance Training is combined with regular training. Staiano et al., 2015 showed that those undergoing brain training at the same time as regular training had 3x the increase in performance in a time-to-exhaustion test over a 12-week period compared to a control group doing the same physical training without brain training. This shows that devotion to cognitive training is necessary if we want to push human performance to new levels and make the ‘impossible’ possible. 

Thank you, Eliud, for showing us that #NoHumanIsLimited

Eliud Kipchoge is lifted by his pacemaking team after becoming the first person to break the two hour barrier for the marathon distance. The INEOS 1:59 Challenge, Vienna, Austria. 12 October 2019. Photo: Bob Martin for The INEOS 1:59 Challenge

I am the happiest man in the world to be the first human to run under two hours and I can tell people that no human is limited.

Eliud Kipchoge

Study Covered in Article for Further Reading

A Randomized Controlled Trial of Brain Endurance Training (BET) to Reduce Fatigue During Endurance Exercise” 
by Walter Staiano, Michele Merlini, Samuele M Marcora
Conference: ACSM Annual Meeting, 2015