When people think of recovery, they tend to think of things like ice baths and protein shakes. However, one of the most important things for recovery is sleep! After an intense training session, everything in the body must recover. This includes the tissues in your body and the central nervous system.
Some signs of fatigue are obvious, like the fatigue that has you wanting to sleep all day, feeling unmotivated to do much at all. Other signs are much more subtle, like your coordination being a bit off or not being able to focus on a task. Fatigue causes a decline in cognitive function. Ideally, you’ll want to catch the fatigue in the earlier stages, but some workouts will have you begging for more sleep.
Post-workout fatigue isn’t necessarily bad, you need to stress the body for it to improve and grow. But you do need to provide adequate recovery afterwards! Inadequate recovery increases your risk of injury and illness, which is the last thing any athlete wants. It can also impair your judgment and affect your nutrition the next day as the brain craves more glucose and has you reaching for less nutrient packed foods. This can derail the nutrition your body needs for recovery, depending on your food choices.
When you sleep, both your endocrine and hormonal systems are hard at work. Cortisol (catabolic hormone) and testosterone (anabolic hormone) are being secreted to produce muscle protein synthesis (MPS) which is needed to repair and grow the muscles. Growth hormone is also being secreted from the pituitary gland during NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep, which is necessary for body restoration. Without adequate sleep, cortisol rises and testosterone drops, which has a detrimental effect on MPS. And cortisol can remain high the next day, which can also affect your sleep patterns and metabolic function.
Cognitive function is restored during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Even just one night of poor sleep can affect your maximal muscle isometric strength and coordination.
How do you get enough sleep for recovery?
Get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night to ensure proper recovery. Elite athletes should get closer to nine hours and treat sleep the same way they treat diet and exercise for their training.
Here are some ways to try to ensure that your body gets enough sleep:
- Turn off all electronic devices (phones, computers, TV screens) at least an hour before bed. These devices emit blue light which trick the body into thinking it’s still daytime. Giving yourself at least an hour lets your body’s circadian rhythm sync naturally.
- Allow your eyes to get sunlight first thing in the morning for at least 10 minutes without sunglasses. This helps to help regulate the secretion of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
- To track your sleep quality, some wearables like Garmin, Suunto, FitBit and Apple Watch will analyze your sleep patterns. They can also give you clues on whether overtraining is affecting your sleep by tracking your resting heart rate (RHR).
- Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening.
- Avoid alcohol, it can also disrupt your sleep.
- Make sure your bedroom is cool and dark with little to no noise. And only use the bedroom for sleep and sex.
- If you do have a horrible sleep, and your schedule allows, take a nap! Even a nap that is less than 20 minutes can help, but you should keep it under 90 minutes and before 3pm so it doesn’t affect your sleep that night.
- If you’re still struggling to get enough sleep for recovery after following the tips above, talk to your doctor.
If you need help with a training plan to get you to that next level without sacrificing rest, contact us!