Sleep – the most underestimated recovery tool

 gettyimages-513284399-1559929079There is nothing better than a good night’s sleep. The feeling of waking up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle another day gives us a pep in our step from the minute our feet touch the floor, and helps us to put all our effort into everything we do in a day. If we feel better and can do more, then it makes sense that sleep forms the basis from which we can optimise our lives.

For athlete’s and weekend warriors alike, sleep is the best recovery strategy we have. You can train as hard, smart, as much as you like, but if you don’t give your body a chance to recover and adapt to your training you are not going to perform well, and you set yourself on the path towards an increased injury risk.

Life these days is a constant tug-o-war between family, friends, work and exercise. Unsurprisingly with this battle going on, we forget about sleep and don’t get enough of it. Many people know the general 7-9 hours of sleep recommendation, but many try to justify that they have ‘learnt to function best’ with 6-7 hours. Our bodies don’t function better on that, rather we have become accustomed to being in a state of fatigue. Using this justification will ultimately send us down a slippery slope in injuries.

This can be overwhelming, so here are a few simple changes you can implement now to give yourself the best  possible sleep:

  1. Increase the amount of sleep you’re getting. More is always better! The more sleep you give yourself a chance to get, the more sleep you will actually get. For athletes and those with heavy training loads, aiming for 9-10 hours is going to be your best bet.

  2. Improve the quality of your sleep. Having a regular sleep and wake schedule each day (even on weekends) and having regular meal times (especially at night) can help our body predict when we’re going to head off to sleep, and possibly make falling asleep easier. Supplements like zinc and magnesium can be used to help reduce muscle tension and stress which can help us fall asleep faster and deeper and stay asleep. (Note: before you take any supplement, make sure you talk to your doctor)

  3. Improve the environment you sleep in. Sleeping in a cool, dark room has been shown to help you sleep better and recover more. Block-out blinds are a great way to block out sunlight (especially in daylight savings). Setting the thermostat or fan to keep the room cool all night long can minimise the risk of the 2am sweats – the exact temperature varies, but research suggests the optimal sleeping temperature is around 18 degrees.

  4. Reducing your use of screens/devices 30-60 minutes before going to bed is a great way to help your brain wind down and allow you to fall asleep faster.

  5. Likewise, avoiding caffeine/alcohol later in the afternoon can help maintain regularity in your sleep/wake schedule and the depth of your sleep.

  6. If you’re a napper, avoid naps in the afternoon – it can affect your sleep/wake cycle and take away from your opportunity to sleep at night.

It goes without saying that there is more to it than this, but these are the simple things each of us can do (athlete or not) to help get a better night’s sleep!