Do not take sleep for granted!

Deep sleep both on training days and competition days is crucial to success.

Published : May 06, 2018 00:41 IST

Golfer Shubhankar Sharma tossed the night before he played at the U.S. Masters, so did skeet shooter Smit Singh and squash player Joshna Chinappa before their Commonwealth Games matches. Everybody knows you need eight hours of sleep. However, sometimes when you get into bed you toss and turn. Sleep is a constant asset to any athlete in hard training. Human performances are highly dependent on one of the main biological rhythms, namely the sleep-wake rhythm. This rhythm is driven by the living clock and is functional in the adaptation to day-night differences in the environment. The athlete, like all humans, is set up to be awake and in good shape to exercise during the day, and to sleep and recover during the night.

Athletes nowadays are taking their sleep for granted. Many do not get eight hours of sleep in one stretch. Instead, a lot of players I know are relying on the post morning training and post lunch naps. Deep sleep both on training days and competition days is crucial to success.

I would like to break sleep down into three basic understandings and how you may disrupt your sleeping patterns.

Lack of certain nutrients and enzymes

My grandmother used to ask us to have a glass of warm milk to help sleep better. In fact, when you heat the milk you break down the protein in the milk to release some amount of Tryptophan. This amino acid Tryptophan is like a wrestler that puts a sleeper-hold on you and your brain goes into a slumber. GABA or gamma aminobutyric acid is a neurotransmitter, responsible for muscle tone and is also able to help a person relax better by stimulating melatonin. Think of GABA as a security that locks up a building after office hours and melatonin is the lock for the building. You can eat two walnuts each night before sleep as they have trace amounts of GABA & Melatonin. I also use glutamine as an amino acid which helps calm the gut. Serotonin is an enzyme that creates mental fatigue and enables the body to relax.

To an athlete, serotonin is a double-edge sword. When not present in large amounts, you will be alert and ready to go. As you tire, serotonin levels pick up. So it’s like a sleep pill or ‘I am tired’ molecule. About 90% of your serotonin is produced in the gut. As players get more nervous or tense the serotonin levels go haywire which dramatically affects sleep. Serotonin is found in mushrooms, fruits and vegetables. The highest values of 25-400 mg/kg have been found in walnuts. Serotonin concentrations of 3-30 mg/kg have been found in bananas, pineapples, kiwifruit, plums and tomatoes. I recommend hot chocolate milk as research says it’s one of the best recovery drinks, but chocolate is high in two sleep agents — tryptophan and serotonin. Tart cherries, too, help induce deeper and more restful sleep.


Over supplementation

Research on nutrients also show heightened alertness when diets are changed. High protein diets just before bed are slated to increase restlessness. A lot of my clients work out at 8-10 p.m., consume an intra-workout supplement that may be loaded with caffeine, Branched chain amino acids (BCAA) and another amino acid arginine, a potent vasodilator. Some athletes have a circadian rhythm or body clock that is already asleep by 9 p.m. But consumption of the wrong foods or supplements will take the brain out of sync into shutdown and reboot every metabolic system into overdrive. Energy drinks have the ability to maintain highs for 6-8 hours. A harmless multivitamin, too, can be a sleep buster. Most vitamin B complexes, especially B12, B6 and B9 have huge impacts on brain alertness. I once had a client who complained of headaches and no sleep till 2 a.m. She had to rise at 5 a.m. for track and field practice. Her mistake: taking the multivitamin at dinner time. Be under a sports nutritionist’s advice to prevent vitamin overdose and correct timing guidance for consumption.


When Robin Uthappa trained under batting coach Pravin Amre a few years back, his mobile phone was taken away. Robin described to me how he was able to come back from practice and reflect on his training for the day and journal it. His biggest discovery was that he slept deeper. Today, with the mobile phone, distractions are the new addictions the athletes are battling without even being aware of them. As far as sleep is concerned, research shows that the blue rays bounce off the brain and eyes and keep you in a stimulated mode. Result: No sleep. Or refusal to go to bed early.

I have advised many players to put the phone off. In fact, I ask them to get an alarm clock as the phone in switched off mode near the bed still has a high EMP (electro magnetic pulse) that affects brainwaves. Also, the phone that is on is constantly pinging its location to the cellular tower. I believe one can have 1-2 hours of enhanced sleep just by keeping the phone away. Electricity is the greatest invention of this century, but for human metabolism it has been detrimental. Increase in stress, obesity, blood pressure and cancers. Bright lights, television linked to satellite networks and worse still, internet on demand allows for binging of the waves with unsuitable appetite that eats into sleep time. I want bored, unentertained athletes. They will sleep earlier with no distractions.

Over the years, I have counselled athletes to get seven hours of sleep — solid and straight. Naps of 30 mins to one hour during the day actually enhance reaction and sprint times. Eating sensibly and not over-supplementing at the wrong times moves the body into equilibrium. Sleep blissfully!

At the Qua Nutrition clinics we are also advising athletes on Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) Therapy which is the new age biohacking to help the troubled insomniacs. For every champion looking to better their nutrition, there is an underlining clean-up to their sleeping habits. Sleep is taken for granted but when pointed out, only the brave have the courage to rewire their commitments to hit snooze early.

Caution: Do not ignore or consume supplements without medical or nutrition advice .

For a list of foods & Supplements for better sleep write to the author at

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