Sleep: The Most Overlooked Yet Most Vital Tool for Fast Effective Recovery by Coach Adam
How many hours sleep did you get last night? For 90% of you reading this,the answer is simply – not enough.
Why We Need Sleep?
When we are in a deep sleep, it is when our body is in its most anabolic (rebuilding) state. Yes that’s right, whether you curl up into a ball or starfish across the entire bed – when we are physically dormant is when we get the most benefit out of our efforts – not only in the gym but also in our daily working lives. What is a quality deep sleep? You know you have had a fully restorative sleep when you wake up wondering what year it is, there’s drool on your pillow yet you fell fresh and alert.
A full sleep cycle typically lasts between 60 to 90 minutes depending on how long you have been asleep and how close you are to waking up. As the night goes on, these cycles get shorter as we begin to wake up. These cycles also vary depending on environment and time of year.
It takes us roughly 20 minutes to reach stage 3 of the sleep cycle. The previous 2 stages is where our body prepares itself for the nights sleep ahead by slowing down our heart rate, relaxing our muscles and lowering body temperature. Stages 3 and 4 are where the magic happens. Now you’re fully asleep, the brain goes to work acting as a filing system and begins storing all new information learnt throughout the day with any related information we have stored in our memory. If we don’t sleep this can’t happen and our brain becomes a chaotic mess. It is like all the traffic lights at a crossroads turning green at once. Pure carnage. During this time the brain also begins to repair and rebuild our muscles and signals the release of that all important growth hormone and testosterone. These hormones are vital to the growths of cells and neural repair, which also contribute to a strong and healthy immune system.
When you deprive yourself of sleep over time your body begins to malfunction. Even cutting your sleep short by an hour or two can lead to deprivation. Everything in life, both the good and the bad, is cumulative. And cumulative sleep loss is most definitely the bad. Anyone who claims to live on 4 hours sleep a night is either lying or is completely unaware that they are making themselves very sick. OK, we’ve all been on 24-hour benders or pulled an all nighter to finish that project that’s due in the morning, but that is always usually rectified by a day or 2 of catch up sleep and then we’re back to our usual rhythm. It is when this sleep loss is on going that you literally turn into a walking zombie.
Cumulative stress: Whether you’re an athlete, office worker or CEO, daily life is mentally and physically draining. When you don’t completely switch off through sleeping you’re like a car that’s been running on fumes for miles and is just buying time before it cuts out.
Elevated Cortisol Levels: Cortisol is the stress-fighting hormone and is at its highest when we first wake up and then tapers off throughout the day. If cortisol levels remain elevated for too long it can cause cognitive issues, weight gain and sleep issues. Thus contributing further to sleep deprivation.
Central Nervous System issues: Your body’s CNS controls nearly all of your bodily functions. We’ve all had those days where you feel uncoordinated and off balance. This is due to your CNS being unrecovered.
Brain Function: Lack of sleep has a direct correlation to lack of concentration, coherence and memory issues.
Not to mention blood sugar regulation problems, inflammation, hormone imbalances, the list goes on.
Over Trained Vs Under Recovered: Cases of over training are rare and some argue that it actually doesn’t exist. That run down and weak feeling in the gym has nothing to do with the amount of training volume but the lack of recovery volume.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
For a non-physically active adult the bare minimum amount of sleep needed by the body is 7-7.5 hours. This is our baseline now we take activity level into account. My general rule of thumb when it comes to sleep for myself is 8 hours + 1 hour for every hour of training. Anything over 10 hours for the average person edges towards being counter productive and more often than not you wake up feeling rough and groggy.
Take A Nap!
I realize not all of us work in Google and have the luxury of Nap Pods at our disposal, but taking naps during the day can have huge benefits on our mood and productivity. As I said previously – everything is cumulative, therefore so is total sleep time.
10-30 Minutes: The “Power Nap”. Ideal for a boost in alertness and energy.
60-90 Minutes: Allows the body to enter a deeper phase of sleep. You get the added benefit of the hormonal response, as it is one full sleep cycle. Ideal for athletes who train later in the day and also for those who had an inadequate amount of sleep during the night.
Steps to ensure a quality night sleep:
Switch Off: Not in front of the TV, mentally switch off. Try to eliminate all stimulants and distractions 45 minutes to an hour before bed. Give yourself a head start and a chance for the serotonin to kick in. Going to bed straight after an episode of Love/Hate won’t do you any favors and odds are it will take you an age of tossing and turning before your brain and body eventually begin to relax.
The Dark Night: Try to get rid of artificial light in your bedroom laptops, phones alarm clock, night lights, whatever it is turn them towards the wall or just get rid of them. During summer months there is a lot to be said for getting blackout blinds or curtains or even sleeping with a face mask over your eyes to get your full 8 hours.
Shut Up: Our ears are very sensitive to noise when going to sleep. Try to keep windows closed especially is you live in noisy areas. Also, try not to fall asleep listening to music.
Fuel Your Sleep: Repairing the body takes a lot of energy, so be sure to feed it well at night. From my own experience, I have found the best way to have a quality sleep, especially on training days, is saving most of my carbohydrate intake for later in the day and in the evening. And by carbs I mean starchy carbs such as potatoes, rice and oats not sugars such as fruit etc. These complex carbs convert to glucose not fructose in the body and are ideal for replenishing depleted glycogen stores. This is a whole other topic in itself, but trust me a small hot bowl of oats an hour before bed will knock you out. Add in some healthy fat from nuts or some coconut oil for some further slow release energy to get you through the night. This will also help curb any late night hunger cravings. Try it for yourselves, especially if you are someone who trains first thing in the morning before breakfast.
To enhance sleep further there are some supplements out there that can help you drift off. However, this should be your last resort and you should exhaust all other natural forms first before turning to medication.
Note: Sleeping pills do not actually put you to sleep, they merely knock you out and you do not go through any form of a sleep cycle. You generally wake up feeling moody and unrested and you get absolutely no hormonal benefit from sleeping pills.
Some supplements that can enhance your recovery during sleep are magnesium, potassium and zinc. These are minerals that a lot of people, especially athletes, are deficient in. The best brands I have found are the Pu
re Pharma M3 (available from the Perpetua Power Station) and a magnesium and calcium supplement called Natural Calm available from most good health food shops.
Prioritize Your Sleep: It takes 21 days for the brain to recognize a habit. Starting tonight, prioritize your sleep time just like you do your workouts and your workday. If possible try to go to bed at the same time every night. That’s a lot to ask because of course life happens and no plan actually tends to go to plan. So set yourself a target amount of sleep, for example 8 hours per night, and stick to it. If that means you need to go to bed earlier than usual because you have an early start, so be it, your body will thank you for it.
On a final point, educate yourselves. You put in all these hours in the gym and if you don’t recover fully between sessions it’s too easy to get into a vicious cycle of beating yourself down and never giving yourself efficient time to build back up. I’m including some links below to some good podcasts and books that are worth checking out.
Barbell Shrugged: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZS-SkALrMN8
So there you have it, the key ingredient you’re most likely missing from your training is simply good quality sleep. I hope I’ve scared you in to getting your full 40 winks a night.