How Sleep and Rest are Essential to Effective Training, Exercise, and Recovery
Team Sky is one of the top cycling teams in the world. Its tour bus has been nicknamed The Death Star. While its daunting appearance – black and large-enough to be seen from outer space – and the relentless way the cyclists from Team Sky attack a race lend to the nickname, the bus is anything but a death star. It’s a refuge of comfort and rest.
With Team Sky’s innovative way of racing, focusing on marginal gains, having a bus that is a mecca for rest and recovery is a critical component of their success. They’re focused on short-term and long-term recovery for their athletes. No amount of rest is too small.
In the non-cycling world, it’s not uncommon to hear people brag about how little sleep they get. It’s almost become a badge of honor. Pulling all-nighters studying or finishing a report at the office have somehow become signs of undying dedication. Add a 5:00 am wakeup to get exercise in, and we’ve got a vision of a modern-day millennial.
Sleep, though, is an essential part of a healthy life and exercise regime. There’s a symbiotic relationship between sleep and exercise. The better you sleep, the better you’ll exercise. Just as the more active you are, the better you’ll sleep.
Lack of sleep has some detrimental effects on athletes (of any level) including:
- Slower muscle recovery
- Mood changes
- Decreased glycogen synthesis. Muscle glycogen, in post-exercise muscle and with adequate carbohydrates and rest, is re-synthesized to near pre-exercise levels within 24 hours, then increases to above-normal levels over the next few days. For optimal training, this muscle glycogen needs to be replenished daily. Without adequate rest and good nutrition, this doesn’t happen.
- Increased levels of stress hormones, in particular cortisol.
Good sleeping habits, on the other hand, are fundamental in an athlete’s recovery:
- A good night’s sleep recharges your battery. The Central Nervous System takes charge when it comes to the body responding to pain, triggering muscle contractions, and response time. During sleep, your CNS gets a much-needed re-boot. Without sleep, after exercise, your body will feel more tired.
- Sleep helps recover your endocrine system and hormone profiles. As mentioned above, increased levels of stress hormones, in particular cortisol, can hurt performance.
- During sleep, your muscles recover. During the day, your body’s central nervous system has to take care of a million things. Sleep is the body’s chance to slow down and focus on breathing, replenishing hormones, and tissue repair. During the day, the CNS has to use its resources for other things (like remembering to pick up the kids from school, working out a budget, and pulling weeds). Without sufficient sleep, you don’t give your body the time it needs to work on tissue repair, muscle recovery.
Team Sky is aware that every second of recovery is important, as it can shave milliseconds off the clock. So, here are 5 tips to get the much-needed rest your body needs to recover after exercise and, by doing so, improve performance levels.
- Have a sleep routine. What do you do to get ready to work out? Most of us have a routine. It’s a way to prepare the body to know what to expect. Do the same for sleep.
- Turn off electronics at least an hour before sleeping. (No more late-night chatting.). Instead, read a book. Talk to someone (face-to-face). When we are exposed to artificial light, our melatonin levels lower because our bodies don’t realize it’s nighttime. Dim the lights and get your melatonin boost for a good night’s rest.
- Write down everything you want to accomplish the next day. This clears your mind of to-dos, unattended business, clutter. Stress leads to sleeplessness which leads to less time for the body to recuperate.
- Take time to meditate. Breathe in and out deeply and fill your mind with positive thoughts.
- Wake up! It just takes two days to get us off our sleep schedule. So, as tempting as it is to indulge in a lazy Saturday morning, resist.
- Don’t exercise right before bed. Give yourself at least an hour to cool down between the time you exercise and go to bed.
- Keep the bedroom cool. Unless you have other plans the best sleep temperature is no hotter than 69 degrees. A cool bedroom helps slow your heart rate down. Literally, night time is time to chill out.
- Snack your way to a good night’s sleep: What we eat has a huge effect on how we sleep. Everything from a healthy breakfast (avoiding sugars so we don’t put our bodies through ups and downs) to portion size can either make, or break, our sleep. Avoid caffeine in the afternoons. In the evening, choose foods with tryptophan (turkey, chicken, tofu, eggs or lentils) and combine with a carb for maximum snooze effect: chicken noodle soup, turkey slices on a whole wheat cracker, eggs on pita bread. Avoid alcohol at night as well.
Sleep is essential to health, mental health, and improved results in exercise. Top athletes never dismiss the importance of sleep and rest, so why should we?
Have a good night!