When it comes to improving sports performance, strength or fitness, as well as reducing body fat, most athletes and coaches are very aware of the importance of a good training programme. There’s also a growing recognition of the importance of nutrition in helping sports people to achieve their training targets. However, from what I’ve seen over the years, I believe there is not enough emphasis on helping athletes to recover from the effects of training.
We will discuss various recovery strategies over the coming weeks, but it makes sense to start with the most important one – sleep.
Sleep is important because it is during this time that hormones are released which help with muscle growth, tissue repair and recovery from training.
It’s also been suggested that the brain uses this downtime to process information and motor skills, and stores this information in long-term memory. Therefore, a good night’s sleep may also help to improve technical skill.
Sports Medicine Expert, Elizabeth Quinn quotes a study from the University of Chicago Medical School by Eve Van Cauter Ph.D., which showed the effects of reduced sleep in eleven men aged 18 to 27.
Results showed that after a period of sleep deprivation, their body’s ability to manage sugar efficiently was reduced and their stress hormones increased. There was also reduced activity of Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which is vital for muscle repair and growth.
Other research studies have demonstrated links between reduced sleep and reductions in testosterone levels of between 10 and 15%.
Apart from beneficial effects on sexual function and reproduction, testosterone has important positive effects on muscle mass and strength, bone density, energy levels and general well-being.
Therefore, to improve recovery from training and to maintain general health and well-being, the proper quality and quantity of sleep is required. It’s often mentioned that the ideal amount of sleep is somewhere between 7 and 9 hours per night, although I’ve seen people (especially parents of newborns) who probably don’t get this amount of sleep in a week! Most people get around 7 hours sleep per night, with a substantial portion of the population surviving on 6.5 hours or less.
The following are some simple ways to get more sleep.
Go to bed earlier! It’s not rocket science. For the majority of people, staying up late is a choice rather than a necessity. Nowadays there are many distractions that prevent us from getting our quota of sleep: work patterns, 24 hour television, internet and social media.
If you are serious about maximising your health and fitness, it would be a good idea to make getting a good night’s sleep a bigger priority than checking how many people liked your latest Facebook Post. Aim to be asleep around 11pm for best results.
Be Consistent. In an ideal world, it works best if you can go to sleep and get up at around the same time 7 days a week. The more consistent your sleep and wake times are, the less hormonal disruption you’ll experience. This in turn can make it easier to stay on track with nutrition and training.
Obviously, it can be a little more challenging if you’re a Party Animal who tends to crawl home at 4am at the weekend. Crawling home at 4am 7 days a week would be consistent although I’m not convinced it would be as effective.
Wind Down. Television and computer screens, as well as stressful situations can stimulate the brain, resulting in the release of stress hormones that are designed to keep us alert.
Replace these with a relaxing night-time ritual and let yourself unwind. Reading, listening to relaxing music, prayer or meditation can all help to de-stress at bed-time.
Avoid Sleeping on a Full Stomach. If your body is trying to digest a meal eaten just before bedtime, it is quite likely that it will disturb your sleep. Aim to stop eating approximately 2-2.5 hours before bedtime.
Sleep in a “Bat Cave” Light, noise, and electro-magnetic energy in your bedroom can all disturb sleep quality. Use black-out blinds, or an eye mask, remove or un-plug as many electric/electronic items as possible, use a battery-operated clock instead of a mobile phone as an alarm clock, and get that phone as far away from your head as possible while you sleep!