The Importance Of Sleep And Top Sleep Hacks To Improve It

Dark cold nights, winter brings with it the doom and gloom that can make getting a good night's sleep difficult. It’s time to check in and make sure your health isn’t suffering and get set for a positive, healthy summer. 

Time to get your health sorted. Where better to start than getting healthier by managing to get a little extra kip

Sleep - Are You Getting Enough?

Getting enough zzzzzz’s at night is one of the most important things we can do for our health but is often one of the most neglected. Late night Netflix binges and taking the office home and working into the night may push back bedtime and reduce the quantity of sleep. ‘Short sleep’ is defined as getting less than an average of 7 hours shut eye each night - how many of us are regularly getting that much sleep? Not only that, how many people toss and turn and struggle getting good quality of sleep? No matter which way you look at it, so many of us are sabotaging one of the easiest, and most essential, forms of mental and physical recovery around.

Performance Effects

When it comes to athletic performance, training and nutrition may be the bricks and mortar, but sleep plays an equally important role by laying the foundations. Sleep is widely considered to be essential for optimal performance and recovery outcomes. Overall, the evidence to date suggests that sleep loss impacts athletic performance via physical and cognitive pathways. Sports-specific skill execution, sustained bouts of sub-maximal exercise, and muscular and anaerobic power appear to be the most prone to being impaired when we aren’t getting enough shut eye (1). A lack of sleep has even been shown to be associated with an increased injury risk in adolescent athletes (2). Reaction time, memory, and the variation in our mood states have all been shown to suffer when we have less sleep. 

If training and nutrition are the bricks and mortar of athletic performance,  sleep is a key part of the foundation holding everything together.

Should you just go to bed earlier?

For the small majority of people, the first step of course is to make sure you’re giving yourself the chance to get 7-8 hours sleep. If it’s after midnight before you think about putting your head on the pillow and the 5am alarm has already been set, there’s an obvious way to improve your sleep habits. Surprisingly though, this is not the case for the majority of people. Many of us manage to set aside enough hours ‘in bed’ in order to get enough hours of counting sheep. The issues are falling asleep and staying asleep.

magnesium and sleep

Sleep Hacks

  • Get offline - internet addiction is on the up. Almost 20% of Europeans have been found to have pathological or compulsive use of the internet (3). Those who compulsively use the internet have been shown to have more than twice the risk of suffering from disturbed sleep.
  • Put down the phone - more than just the effects of the internet, even just the light emitted from your phone or tablet can be keeping you up at night. Evening blue light (which is the predominant light emitted from LED screened phones) has been shown to suppress melatonin, which can negatively impact sleep quality. The light is effectively telling your brain that it is still daytime. Instead of picking up your phone, pick up a book. If you have to use screens at night, switch on the phone or tablet’s ‘night mode’ that will reduce the amount of blue light emitted.
  • Look after your gut - more and more is being discovered about the link between the bacteria that live in our guts (our microbiome) and our brains. It has been shown that the composition of our microbiome is associated with many aspects of sleep physiology. Although studies are in the early stages, there is some early evidence to show that probiotic supplements can improve sleep quality in healthy adults (5)
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  • Nutrition - supplementing daily with vitamin D, magnesium, B vitamins, and vitamin C have all been suggested to improve sleep duration and quality (6). Kiwi fruits are high in vitamin C and E and their serotonin content has been suggested to be one of the mechanisms linking them to improvements in sleep. High glycaemic foods 1-2 hours before bed have been shown to help us get to sleep quicker, as has milk.
  • Relaxation techniques - if you are lying in bed and struggling to nod off, relaxation techniques could help. Meditation and yoga before bed may help you wind down while exercises like the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise have been suggested to help you sleep in less than 60 seconds once you’ve mastered it (we’re yet to try it). When you are lying in bed, struggling to relax and switch off, another method to try is progressive muscle relaxation.
    • Take a deep breath and contract one muscle group at a time. Start with your lower extremities like your feet, and then move to your calves and thighs.
    • Contract for 5-10 seconds before releasing your breath and releasing the tension
    • Move up to your middle extremities like your bum and stomach.
    • Finish off with your arms, hands, chest, shoulders, neck, and lastly face. Focus on particular tension points like a tight jaw or tense shoulders.
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The Challenge

Whether it is one of the techniques above or something else, we want to see how you’re improving your sleep. Here’s a challenge for you: 

  • start a handwritten sleep journal - forget the fancy phone apps. Each morning, write down what time you went to bed, how easy it felt to drift off, and what time you woke up
  • commit to taking 1 or 2 steps we've written about above to improve your sleep

head over to our facebook or instagram pages and tag us with your photo of your sleep journal and let us know what steps you’re taking to look after you sleep this month. Make sure to use the hashtag #PRPwellnesswatch

1) Bonnar, Daniel, Kate Bartel, Naomi Kakoschke, and Christin Lang. "Sleep interventions designed to improve athletic performance and recovery: a systematic review of current approaches." Sports medicine 48, no. 3 (2018): 683-703.

2) Gao, Burke, Shashank Dwivedi, Matthew D. Milewski, and Aristides I. Cruz Jr. "Chronic lack of sleep is associated with increased sports injury in adolescents: A systematic review and meta-analysis." Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine 7, no. 3_suppl (2019): 2325967119S00132.

3) Alimoradi, Zainab, Chung-Ying Lin, Anders Broström, Pia H. Bülow, Zahra Bajalan, Mark D. Griffiths, Maurice M. Ohayon, and Amir H. Pakpour. "Internet addiction and sleep problems: A systematic review and meta-analysis." Sleep medicine reviews 47 (2019): 51-61.

4) Smith, Robert P., Cole Easson, Sarah M. Lyle, Ritishka Kapoor, Chase P. Donnelly, Eileen J. Davidson, Esha Parikh, Jose V. Lopez, and Jaime L. Tartar. "Gut microbiome diversity is associated with sleep physiology in humans." PLoS One 14, no. 10 (2019): e0222394.

5) Marotta, Angela, Eleonora Sarno, Antonio Del Casale, Marco Pane, Luca Mogna, Angela Amoruso, Giovanna E. Felis, and Mirta Fiorio. "Effects of probiotics on cognitive reactivity, mood, and sleep quality." Frontiers in psychiatry 10 (2019): 164.

6) Doherty, Rónán, Sharon Madigan, Giles Warrington, and Jason Ellis. "Sleep and nutrition interactions: Implications for athletes." Nutrients 11, no. 4 (2019): 822.

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There is more and more evidence that your gut health can impact more than just your digestive system. The bacteria in your intestines have been shown to influence our mood, our hunger and satiety, and our immune function.

But one area of emerging research has also shown that these bacterial species can affect our performance during exercise. This has led to studies looking at whether probiotic supplements can lead to improvements in performance and used as an endurance supplement.

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While the LAb4 Probiotics have been used in numerous clinical studies assessing their use for weight loss, immune function and stress and anxiety (see our Lab4 basics blog), there is now new evidence that they could have direct benefits for those competing in endurance events such as marathons and triathlons.

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The first evidence of our probiotics being beneficial as an endurance supplement was shown in a study published in 2014 (1). A group of runners were recruited to perform trials where they were asked to run for as long as possible on a treadmill in the heat. Then, one group supplemented with Lab4 probiotics while the other group took a placebo. After runners had supplemented with Lab4 probiotics for 4 weeks and asked to, they were able to run for ~15% longer compared to when they had taken the placebo. 

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In 2016, the next piece of evidence was published showing that probiotics were beneficial to athletes taking part in an Ironman Triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile cycle, and 26.2 mile run) (2). Participants supplemented with probiotics or placebo for 12 weeks. Those taking probiotics had a 10% quicker overall race time than those on the placebo - with a particularly quicker cycle time – although this did not reach statistical significance.

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Those taking probiotics also suffered from fewer and less severe gut symptoms (e.g. bloating, urge to defecate, nausea, etc.) during training compared to the placebo group. This study was also the first to suggest that, similarly to findings in IBS patients, Lab4 probiotics seemed to reduce the gut symptoms experienced by some endurance athletes. So not only this is beneficial as an endurance supplement to increase performance it also has health benefits with gut symptoms for training and during race time.

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Gut symptoms like bloating, nausea, stomach/intestinal pain or discomfort, cramping, headaches, dizziness, constipation and diarrhoea were assessed and severity scores during training were significantly lower in the Lab4 probiotic groups compared to the placebo group.

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Those taking probiotics also suffered from fewer and less severe gut symptoms (e.g. bloating, urge to defecate, nausea, etc.) during training compared to the placebo group. This study was also the first to suggest that, similarly to findings in IBS patients, Lab4 probiotics seemed to reduce the gut symptoms experienced by some endurance athletes. So not only this is beneficial as an endurance supplement to increase performance it also has health benefits with gut symptoms for training and during race time.


1 - Shing, C. M., Peake, J. M., Lim, C. L., Briskey, D., Walsh, N. P., Fortes, M. B., ... & Vitetta, L. (2014). Effects of probiotics supplementation on gastrointestinal permeability, inflammation and exercise performance in the heat. European journal of applied physiology114(1), 93-103. 

 2 - Roberts, J. D., Suckling, C. A., Peedle, G. Y., Murphy, J. A., Dawkins, T. G., & Roberts, M. G. (2016). An exploratory investigation of endotoxin levels in novice long distance triathletes, and the effects of a multi-strain probiotic/prebiotic, antioxidant intervention. Nutrients8(11), 733.

3 - Suckling, C., Roberts, J., Peedle, G., Gordon, D., Marshall, H., Taylor, L., & Roberts, M. G. (2016). Probiotic Supplementation and Gastrointestinal Endotoxemia Before and After the Marathon Des Sables. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise48(5S), 249-250.

4 - Pugh, J. N., Sparks, A. S., Doran, D. A., Fleming, S. C., Langan-Evans, C., Kirk, B., ... & Close, G. L. (2019). Four weeks of probiotic supplementation reduces GI symptoms during a marathon race. European journal of applied physiology119(7), 1491-1501.