Eat, SLEEP, Derby

Derby skaters, you work hard to be monsters in your sport, right?  You give your time, energy, and attention to all things derby in hope of becoming more amazing?  If you’re reading this blog, you likely cross-train and try to eat well, or are at least interested in learning more about how to treat your body right so that it will perform optimally.


In the derby world, we’re responsible for keeping a lot of balls up in the air – we have to run our leagues, get butts in seats, recruit new skaters, develop merch, put together bouts – and that’s on top of coming to practice and developing our athleticism.

Let me tell you right now, it’s all for naught if you aren’t recovering as hard as you’re working.


Sleep, relaxation, and stress-reduction should all be cornerstones of your training program – just as much as lifting heavy stuff and eating healthfully.  It can feel like there’s just too much to do and not enough time to get a good night’s sleep, but if you’re serious about your performance, find a way.  Studies have shown that sleep deprivation has a negative effect on split-second decision making – you know, the kind you use on the track.  There’s also evidence that cutting your sleep short can raise the stress hormone cortisol, make you more prone to fatigue, and may hinder post-game recovery.

How does sleep work?

Sleep follows an alternating cycle of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement), which repeats every 90 minutes or so.

Stage 1 (1-7 minutes): Drifting off, between awake and asleep

Stage 2 (10-25 minutes): Onset of sleep, breathing and heart rate regulate, body temperature drops

Stages 3 & 4 (20-40 minutes, shorter as the night goes on): Deeper sleep – “slow wave” or “delta” sleep, breathing slows, blood pressure drops, muscles relax and blood supply to muscles increases, tissue growth and repair takes place, hormones are released, sleeper is difficult to wake

(sneaky recurrence of Stage 2 – 5-10 minutes)

REM Sleep (1-5 minutes, longer as the night goes on) – Brain is active, eyes dart back and forth, body doesn’t move, dreaming happens

REM sleep is crucial to replenishing our energy stores and overall recovery – muscular and otherwise.  Contrary to what most of us think, REM isn’t your “deepest” sleep – Stage 4 NREM is, REM is actually the closest your body comes to being awake in the sleep cycle.

After the first two 1-REM cycles, your body begins to diminish or eliminate deeper sleep, and elongates your REM sleep.  By morning, much of your sleep is spent in Stage 2 and REM, until you wake up.  Your first sleep cycle lasts generally between 70-100 minutes, subsequent ones last 90-120 minutes.


rachel CALAMUSA for Wikimedia Commons

So, what is a “good night’s sleep”?

In a general sense, most people need 7-8 hours sleep a night. Teenagers need more like 9 hours.  Ideally, you want to finish complete sleep cycles upon waking, and sleep with few disturbances.  There are some studies that say REM sleep diminishes and sleep disturbance increases in the elderly, though that might be attributed to the increased amount of medication they tend to be taking and their side-effects – more incentive to prioritize your sleep and recovery now.

How to get a good night’s sleep:

Think about all of the time and effort you put in to training, diet, and derby practice.  Do you spend even a fraction of that time setting yourself up to sleep well?  If not, commit to at least one of the tips below to get you on the road to rest and recovery.

  • Make your bedroom a sanctuary – Invest in a great bed and pillows.  They make a world of difference.  Keep your room dark, with minimal to no artificial lights.  Try to make your room cave-like, womb-like, or like what I imagine the pouch of a kangaroo is like.  A good rule of thumb – no screens in the bedroom.
  • Another thing that doesn’t belong in the bedroom – work.  Try to keep your bed reserved for sleep and adult cuddles.
  • Stick to natural cycles – go to bed when it’s dark, wake up with the sun.  Many of us go to bed really late and expect to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning – not such a great plan.  There are many apps that can help you track your sleep cycles.
  • Have you heard that hours of sleep before midnight are better than the ones after?  While this may or may not be true, you should at least try to get one or two of those hours in – if you’re a regular joe with a 9-5 job, going to bed before midnight is more or less the only way to get an appropriate amount of sleep.
  • Fresh air and cool temperatures will help improve your sleep.  If you don’t have too much street noise, open a window.  If you live somewhere noisy, turn on a fan which has the added benefit of giving you some relaxing white noise.
  • Limit your stimulation right before bed – try to finish eating, exercising, or ingesting any caffeine or alcohol 2-3 hours before sleep.
  • Develop a bedtime routine – prime your mind and body for sleep: read, meditate, do some gentle stretching, take warm bath in the winter, or a cool shower in the summer.  Also, stick to roughly the same sleep schedule every day, even on the weekend.
  • If, even after doing all of that stuff, you’re still having trouble sleeping, try some relaxation techniques or imagery.  If you toss and turn for more than 15-20 minutes, get up, do something that relaxes you (read, stretch, whatever), come back to bed when you’re sleepy – don’t just watch the clock tick away.

Whichever tips or tricks you use, make sleep just as much a priority as training or nutrition.  Remember, gains come from recovery.  Sweet dreams!

Eugene0126jp fo Wikimedia Commons

Eugene0126jp for Wikimedia Commons

Want to learn more about sleep?  The following were invaluable resources:

Sleep Foundation – Have any question, ever, about sleep?  You’ll find the answer here.

Super-Sciencey Sleep Article from Harvard

Canadian Sport for Life – A cool resource about our changing sleep needs through various ages and level of competition.






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