Updated: Feb 28
You’ve heard the advice plenty of times, “get your beauty sleep” “make sure to recover”. After a long run or hard workout, we all know that recovery is important. However, are we truly optimizing our recovery? What does getting good sleep really look like, and what role does it actually play in recovery?
Many factors play a role in tissue (muscle, bone tendon, cardiovascular, etc.) recovery. Top of the list are re-fueling, re-hydrating, rest, and sleep, amongst others. Let’s take a look at one of the main pillars of recovery: sleep. We will explore what good sleep entails, and how failure to get adequate sleep impacts our health and performance. Then, we will walk through some steps you can take to build healthier sleep habits.
Role of Sleep
When we perform moderate to hard intensity exercise, a proinflammatory or “breakdown” state is initiated in the body. This is a normal part of the performance dip or breakdown in response to a hard stimulus. However, the ultimate goal with training is to recover from the new stress and drive “supercompensation” aka adaptation or improvement. However, if your recovery is not sufficient, we can spend too much time in this debt phase of the training/recovery cycle, putting us at elevated risk of plateau, burnout, or worse, injury.
How Does Sleep Play Into This?
"Reduced sleep, less than roughly 8 hours, puts you at 1.7 times higher risk of injury when you are training"
Lack of sleep results in spending more time in that “proinflammatory state”, reducing your immune resistance to infection, disease, and sabotaging both your training capacity and training potential! If you are already injured, limited sleep has also been shown to increase your risk of re-injury during the recovery process.
Lack of sleep has also been shown to zap your mood. Not surprisingly, one research study found that sleep deprivation resulted in significantly higher rates of self-reported negative moods.
How Much Sleep is Enough Sleep?
Perhaps your GPS watch spits out some data onto your phone telling you how you slept. But what does that data actually mean? What metrics should you be aiming for?
The average adult should be getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night, and the average teenager should be getting 8-10 hours. Where do you fall on this sleep continuum? Unfortunately, research into self-reported time spent sleeping indicates the majority of adults sleep less than the recommended levels, averaging closer to 6-7 hours a night. This becomes problematic, as athletes should be getting even more sleep than the average adult, at around 9-10 hours/night.
There are two main phases of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non rapid eye movement (N-REM) sleep. These two categories can be further broken down into substages. 20-25% of your sleep cycle should be spent in the REM phase that typically occurs in a cyclic fashion after about 30-40 minutes of sleeping. The remaining 75% of sleep is usually in the N-REM phase. It has been proposed that REM sleep is when memory consolidation occurs and new motor skills are acquired and processed by the brain.
It only takes a few nights of interrupted sleep to throw off your normal sleep cycle. Studies on sleep deprived individuals and those with interrupted sleep patterns first show a decrease in REM sleep. As we alluded to earlier, this can be problematic when it comes to learning, mood, skill acquisition, and tissue recovery.
Does Napping Help?
Nothing is going to be as effective as getting an adequate amount of sleep at night, but if you are in a sleep deprived pinch, there is some research indicating napping can help. One study found that a short, 20 minute nap after lunch was helpful with motor skill learning, alertness, and performance levels. It was determined that a 20-minute nap, when sleep deprived, does not completely restore the brain to normal function, but can result in small improvements.
How to Improve Sleep?
Sometimes, there are factors out of our control that impact our sleep, such as hectic schedules, young children, etc. However, here are some basic tips to improve your sleep environment and optimize the sleep you are able to achieve.
Set a schedule.
Have a consistent sleep schedule and stick to it. Creating a regular bedtime wind down routine can be helpful with this too.
Reduce screen time before bed.
Light, especially the type of light emitted by electronics, disrupts melatonin production. So, try removing electronics from your sleep space and discontinuing use an hour or so before bedtime.
Avoid caffeine use in late afternoon and evenings.
Also, try to abstain from caffeine for the first 90-120 minutes of your day, as it can interfere with the cascade of hormonal effects taking place early in your wake cycle (I know, this one sounds hard.. And it can be, but it can help avoid afternoon energy crashes).
Reduce alcohol consumption, as this negatively impacts the sleep cycle as well.
Keep your bedroom cool and dark.
Most research indicates that bedroom sleep temperatures between 60-67 degrees can cue your body that it is time to sleep.
Getting quality sleep is important for everyone, and absolutely essential for athletes. Your training program, and your rehab/prehab regimen will be insufficient if your sleep schedule is suffering. So, I challenge you to take a closer look at your sleep habit and to make some small changes to prioritize your recovery. Your body will thank you! If you need help navigating your personalized recovery process, feel free to connect with us at zenith-pnw.com.
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