In the world of sports, athletes and coaches are always looking for that competitive edge. The absolute best training programs in the world won't do you any good unless recovery is taken into account. Competitive athletes, and anyone who trains regularly, are introducing added stress to their system; it is vital to recover from and adapt to this stress. The absolute best recovery is sleep. Almost everyone knows the benefits of sleep and has heard all of the standard recommendations to improving sleep; here are four outside of the box tools that have helped many users improve their sleep quality and recover more efficiently and effectively.


1. Sleep Tracker (Such as UP by Jawbone or Fitbit)

I have used the UP by Jawbone, although there are many other good devices by Fitbit and others that you can use the same way.

The Jawbone wristband is primarily used as an activity tracker and pedometer that tells you how many steps you take. This is a great tool for many people looking to get active and find some motivation to move throughout the day. My favorite feature, however, is definitely the sleep mode. I don’t even use it during the day; I keep the band on my nightstand and only wear it for sleep.

Knowing about your sleep is a great first step to sleeping better. It is hard to set and know you’ve attained your goals without using some sort of metric to tell you how you actually slept.

Here are a few sample nights of sleep. The standard recommendation is between 7.5 and 9 hours of sleep each night, although this is dependent on the individual due to both lifestyle and genetics. Wear your sleep tracker for a few weeks and try to zero in on your own optimal sleep patterns; some people are able to perform at a high level with less sleep while others will need more to feel refreshed.

Pretty normal night of sleep. Hitting the standard recommendation of 8 hours. 

Making nights like this a habit will ensure that you are getting proper recovery.

Here is what a bad night looks like. Went to bed too late and had to get up at 6; also based on the time awake at the beginning of the night, there was something going on here: working late on the computer, alcohol, etc.

For most busy people, nights like this may have to occur in order to get projects done, but the key is to limit these and not make them the norm.

Extreme recovery mode. Catching up after a busy period. This length of sleep should also not become a habit.

2. Blue Light Blockers

While it is recommended to turn off all electronics an hour before going to bed, it is sometimes unrealistic to do this in the real world. You may need to send emails or text messages, or maybe you get on social media or play a game on your phone to unwind. The recommendation to turn your electronics off is two-fold; phones and computers can be mentally stimulating, but there is actually a physiological reaction to the light.

Our sleep and wake cycles are modulated by hormonal responses based on light and dark. Bright lights (the sun as well as smartphones) signal for the production of wakefulness hormones, such as cortisol, and suppress your production of sleep hormones, such as melatonin. The blue glow of smartphones, computers, and TVs is especially wakefulness inducing and has the potential to seriously impact your sleep.

 Red lights, however, do not signal the same response. Red or orange tinted glasses like this pair will help to block some of the harmful blue light if you must be on electronics before bed. Sometimes you cannot avoid using your phone or computer, and the blue blocking glasses may help minimize the impact of electronics on your melatonin production. If you do not want to wear the goggles, downloading f.lux on your computer will subtly tint your computer screen orange late at night.

3. White Noise Sound Machine

As simple as it may seem, using a white noise sound machine may help you sleep better. The subtle hum of white noise helps to drown out outside noises like cars, talking, snoring, etc. that may wake you or keep you awake during the night. 

Many people notice the noise at first but say that it goes away after a few minutes and becomes the new silence. You may also use machines or apps that create nature sounds like rain, the ocean, or a forest for the same effect. I like white noise the best. White noise sound machines include the HoMedics SoundSpa and the Marpac Dohm-DS.

4. Alpha-Lactalbumin Supplement

There is a lot of interesting research on the impact of alpha-lactalbumin protein on sleep quality, cognitive function, and mood. It is a specific protein that is commonly found in milk. Alpha-Lactalbumin is a complete protein that includes a very high ratio of the amino acid tryptophan, which is widely known for enhancing sleep quality.

Whey Protein is rich in Alpha-Lactalbumin and tryptophan, and regular use may help improve sleep quality. If you are able to spend more, you may want to look at an isolated Alpha-Lactalbumin supplement such as BioZzz. On top of the sleep benefits, athletes and individuals with fitness goals may also benefit from the added lean protein before bed.