As we can see from the above equation, our recovery needs to exceed the stress of our training or else we don’t yield a favorable adaptation. Recovery is often the forgotten performance variable that fails to be optimized and can limit performance. Perhaps it is forgotten because unlike the training stress, athletes are rarely praised for their recovery protocols. If anything, we often associate indulgence in recovery practices like sleeping-in or lounging around with being lazy. While it is often our suffering in training that earns the respect of our peers, teammates, and coaches, rest and recovery methods can often make or break your training and competitive performances. Instead of asking your teammates and training partners how much they are benching or how fast they can run, we should start asking how many hours of sleep they got last night. In this article we’ll briefly talk about sleep as one of the key tenets of an effective recovery regimen.
Sleep is such a powerful recovery modality because it is during sleep when the bulk of our training adaptations occur. While asleep, our body performs tissue and muscular repairs. These adaptations are largely induced by the release of hormones such as growth hormone that is essential for muscular growth and development. The mind and body has the opportunity to slow down, which serves as a much needed break from our daytime events.
It is generally recommended that individuals get between 8-10 hours of quality sleep a night to maximize physical restoration. Sleep occurs in stages, and a full sleep cycle takes around 90 minutes. There are 4 stages of non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM). The stages range from a very light sleep in stage 1 to the deepest and most restorative stage of sleep in stage 4. In stage 4 of NREM, blood pressure drops, breathing slows, muscles relax, blood supply increases to the muscles, tissue growth and repair occurs, and our energy is restored. Following stage 4 of NREM, rapid-eye movement (REM) occurs. During REM sleep, energy is provided to the brain and body and is the critical sleep stage that supports daytime performance.
There are a few steps we can take to improve our sleep quality. Developing proper sleep etiquette, ritualistic behaviors that help you efficiently get to sleep each night, is the first step in improving sleep quality. Develop an evening routine that helps you unwind and try to maintain a consistent bedtime. Give yourself 20-30 minutes to unwind, and let the consistency of your bedtime teach your body shutdown when you need it to. We sleep better in a dark, cool, and quiet room. The most devastating sleep disruptions come from abrupt loud noises. We can dampen abrupt noises such as a door slam or squealing car tires by applying some white noise. Running an overhead or portable fan provides a consistent and unoffensive noise that can help to mask a loud jolting sound, so that you stay asleep.
Work as hard at preparing for your sleep as you do your training, and you’ll be rewarded with improved vigor and performance.
Next Up in the Recovery Series, Part 2- Recovery Nutrition