The Importance of Sleep & Recovery
Go to bed Jessica!
In the context of R.O.C.K, sleep and recovery is super important for my clients. In the gym, training causes stimulus to their bodies, however the changes that we all want to see (muscle tone, reduction in size, better endurance etc) only occur when they are at rest and in recovery.
Apart from refueling and hydration, good quality sleep is what causes the body to heal and that is when it is changing and improving. The efficacy of your training is based on the way you recover.
When you train, your muscles are breaking down - not in a scary way, if you're doing it correctly. Weight training causes the muscle fibres to tear and break down so that the body can then rebuild them to be stronger and more resilient. This is what your body is doing while it's sleeping.
That physical repair period, usually between 10PM and 2AM, of your circadian rhythm (also known as your body clock or even sleep cycle) is when your body is recovering and starting to rebuild.
As you can see from the chart, this period is followed by the psychological repair period. Lack of sleep has been linked to obesity, depression and many other ailments. Without proper rest, you won't see results from your training, you won't be able to function in your day to day activities and you may even suffer from more serious consequences.
What is a good amount of sleep?
There is a huge amount of individual variance and this is something you need to find out about yourself. Most people will find their optimal sleep and recovery is between 7 and 9 hours of good quality sleep per night. That means not waking up in the middle of the night. The amount of sleep you need changes as you age. Babies need a lot of sleep, as do growing teenagers. That amount then reduces over time.
How do I ensure I get good quality sleep?
1. Routine. Go to bed and get up and similar times every day to give your body a chance to adhere to a rhythm.
2. Early to bed. The earlier you go to bed the better. I know, you're thinking "I'm a night owl, I can't go to sleep early". But there is getting to bed late and then there is LATE. Try to at least start to wind down well before midnight.
3. No screens. We all do it. We all scroll through our feeds at night or in bed, but in an ideal situation - no screens. If you can't live with that, at least turn your "night mode" up to max to reduce the amount of blue light. I use Night Shift on my iPhone. You can also download F.lux for your mac which changes the screen tone between hours that you can set. It also handily reminds you how many hours until you have to wake up when you're tapping away super late.
4. Wind down. To help you wind down, try not to do anything work related after 9pm to help get your brain ready for sleep. Ideally, remove your phone from your bedroom completely so that you aren't tempted to pick it up. Get another alarm clock! Or at least put it on "do not disturb".
Lots of people (like myself) have a very active inner monologue and that is something that might keep you awake at night. We need to try to make sure our brain isn't over-stimulated late at night, as hard as that may seem. To help wind down:
- Read something not work related
- If you MUST watch tv, don't watch anything too scary or emotional
- Don't eat too late as an active digestive system will hamper your sleep quality
- If you normally have to pee throughout the night, try to spread your liquid intake across the day so that you don't have to drink water before bed (that includes tea!)
- Have a bath or a hot shower before bed
5. Make it dark. Make it quiet. It is essential that you make sure your room is as quiet and dark as possible. Get blackout curtains or blinds (they also help with noise reduction) and cover all of those annoying little lights from your electrical appliances. You know, those red or green dots? Cover them with electrical tape or stick a post it over the top. This includes bright digital clocks!
You've heard all of this before. Just try ONE of them and see how it goes.
Although I get up at 5:30AM every day (check out my Near Normal Day article), I wasn't always a morning person. In fact, when I first started working from 7AM, I found it incredibly hard. I wasn't eating well because I wasn't organised. I wasn't winding down properly. I wasn't giving myself enough time to recover. I used to feel groggy and unfocused. I couldn't stomach food that early in the morning and that set me up for a sluggish day.
It took several months and a proper routine to make this work for me. Now that I eat protein earlier in the day, get up at the same time every day, have my morning routine and my wind down routine and I burn lots of energy throughout the day being active - it works. I feel completely alert by 7AM. I never have a problem falling asleep.
Of course,(here comes the broken record) everyone is different! The key is to listen to your body and work out what it needs. Try different things to find that out - don't just assume that you already know. Create a routine and stick to it.
Once you are in it, it will become second nature, it will be one less thing to worry about, your workouts will be more effective, your brain will be sharper and you'll feel BETTER.
Further Reading & Sources:
Psychology Today has a good point of reference for several articles on sleep by a variety of physicians.