How to get a great night’s sleep

words by Guy Little, Tuesday 30 July 2019

Just like aspects of our game, from time-to-time, our sleep needs a bit of work. And just as we need to review and practice our skills in footy to play well, it’s worth doing the same with our sleep to look after our mental health. So, here are three things we can consider to get good sleep: Daytime Preparation, Bedtime Routine, and Bedroom Conditions.

Daytime Preparation

There are several things we can consider doing in the day, and from as early as when we wake up, that can help us prepare for a good night’s sleep. This list isn’t exhaustive, but here are a few things to lower our eyes on:

  • Getting up at the same time – Our bodies and brains generally appreciate consistency. Waking up at a regular time, even on the weekends, can help us get us in the rhythm of waking and also getting tired when it’s time for bed.
  • Watch out for CATS (not the furry ones!) – Caffeine, Alcohol, Tobacco, Sweeteners – what we consume in the day can influence the quality of sleep we get. Caffeine and Tobacco are stimulants and can keep us awake at night. Alcohol is a relaxant and can send us to sleep quickly and can cause early waking (we don’t get that regenerative REM sleep that we need). Sweeteners (sugary food) can stimulate us too. Doctors suggest dialing back on these in our diets to help us get better sleep.
  • Get sunlight. Getting natural light in the day (rather than artificial lighting, say the stuff we get in an office or at home) helps our brains and bodies know it’s daytime. Sounds simple, but our brains contrast this “light” data with darkness to know when it is night time. This then helps us get sleepy at night and feel awake in the day (if we plan to be in the sun, don’t forget we should slip, slop, slap, and shade, and all that!)
  • Move in the day. The National Sleep Foundation (USA) says that even a small amount of aerobic exercise (10 mins) can help promote good sleep. They suggest that we should consider avoiding strenuous exercise in the 4-hour window before bed, but this is unlikely to happen in footy! They also suggest that we need to realise that we all have different capacities to cope with vigorous exercise before bed, and we all have different schedules too. It maybe that we can consider some effective ways to wind down and relax if we are training late at night. 
  • Minimise napping. If we need to nap, Doctors suggest it is best to reduce our day-time sleeps to 30 minutes. For some purposes, we may need to nap for longer (e.g., athlete recovery), but Doctors recommend leaving our “big sleep” for night time is best (unless we are shift-workers and our day is night and our night is day – the 7-9 hour rule still applies).
  • Bed is for bed… Not daytime activities. Doctors suggest we should avoid using our beds in the day for things like doing work, watching TV, and reading. We should consider how we can help our brains make the connection that bed = sleep.

Bedtime Routine

Having a regular routine before bed is useful for our brains, because they begin to anticipate that sleep is coming and then can relax into a sleepy state.

  • Consistency – professionals recommend that, if we can, we should follow a consistent pattern of actions, or routine, (e.g., shower, brush teeth, bed) to help prime our brains to let them know sleep is coming. Sleep experts suggest that we don’t have to stick rigidly to the routine – doing that may cause us to feel stressed if and when we need to do things differently around bedtime!
  • Quiet – Health professionals have suggested that time to quiet your mind (by listening to relaxing music, dimming lights, lowering noise where possible) can be useful in the lead up to sleep. We can consider trying to give some time to focus on other things rather than taking our work to bed.
  • Reduce screen time – The use of digital devices (e.g., laptops, TVs, phones, video games) are thought to negatively influence the quality of sleep. Recent studies have shown that screen time and waking in the night due to mobile phone alerts are associated with sleep problems and related health issues in children and adolescents. Sleep experts recommend, where we can, we should try to cut back on the digital activity late at night (we can always watch the weekend replays in the morning!).

Bedroom Conditions

The conditions in our bedrooms are important, because these help our brains and bodies relax. These factors are often things that professional players consider when they travel and play away from home. We can reflect on:

  • Comfort – is there anything we can do to increase comfort in our bedrooms? Small things from thinking about whether it’s time to replace our pillows or just tidying up our rooms to make them feel less ‘busy’ and help us relax into sleep.
  • Quiet – if we can make our bedrooms quiet, brilliant! Sleep experts suggest we turn down the noise! If we can’t, they recommend we consider wearing earplugs or playing consistent white noise. Our brains often become alert when we hear inconsistent, unpredictable sounds (like dogs barking, or, more often in my case, the cockatoos squawking outside my window).
  • Cold (but not too cold) – our body temperature drops when we sleep, and when we are too warm at night, we can wake early. The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School recommend that bedroom temperatures should be between 15 to 23 degrees celsius at nighttime. Many people like to sleep in well-ventilated rooms with good airflow, but this isn’t always possible!
  • Dark – making sure our rooms are dark when it’s time to turn the lights off is good. If we can’t darken our rooms, professionals suggest we consider using eye-masks to block out annoying lights that might keep us from getting restful sleep.

So, there we have it, some things to consider in regards to getting consistent sleep. Again, this list isn’t exhaustive – there are other factors to consider that are not covered here. In another blog we’ll cover what the sleep experts suggest we do to get back to sleep when we wake up in the night.

Guy Little is the Tackle Your Feelings Program Psychologist.

Click here to view the sources used for this article.

Need Support? If you know someone who requires urgent assistance or support, please contact:

Suicide call back service: 1300 659 467

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800

Emergency: 000

Support for AFL Players: If you are a current or past AFL Player and would like to know more about our specialised wellbeing and mental health services please contact the AFL Players’ Association at or Tel. 03-8651 4300 (Mon to Fri, 9am – 5pm).

Click here to read our disclaimer.