Not getting enough sleep – or spending too much time lying in bed without actually getting restful sleep – can be hugely detrimental to your emotional and physical health as well as your recovery.
The good news is that making little changes to your sleep schedule and improving your sleep hygiene can go a long way toward boosting your recovery. The not-so-great news is that consistency is key, and sleep disorders may be part of why you have a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting out of bed in the morning.
Restorative Sleep Is Essential
Getting enough sleep every night is important – anywhere from seven to nine hours, depending on your needs – but it is important that those hours be restorative in nature, providing you with the time you need to go through full sleep cycles, build up your immune system, and repair your body’s systems.
Matthew Walker is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. He says: “I used to suggest that sleep is the third pillar of good health, along with diet and exercise, but I don’t agree with that anymore. Sleep is the single most effective thing you can do to reset your brain and body for health.”
The brain, the immune system, the heart, and every other system in the body are negatively impacted when we don’t get enough sleep. In recovery, this can add up to:
- High blood pressure
- Lower energy
- Increased rates of acute illness (e.g., colds, inflammation flare-ups, etc.)
- Increased rates of chronic illness (e.g., heart disease)
- Increased risk of depression
- Weight gain
All of these can increase stress levels, turning normal stressors into extreme issues that can ultimately trigger relapse.
Improving Sleep Quality
You do not need medication to help you get to sleep or stay asleep. In fact, it is better if you learn how to do these things naturally and avoid use of addictive medications that can trigger relapse.
Here are just a few of the things you can do to improve your quality of sleep and boost your recovery at the same time:
- Create a quiet, dark place to sleep. You will need a comfortable bed, the amount of covers that make you feel most comfortable, darkness (even without an alarm clock light if that keeps you up), and quiet to ensure you get the best sleep possible. Keep temperatures cool, and add some white noise, like a fan and/or nature sounds to the mix, and you’ve got a great sleep environment.
- Avoid stimulating activities before bed. This means no exercise, no big meals, no caffeine, and no interfacing with electronic screens in the hours before bed. These activities can keep your brain and body up and functioning when you want everything to slow down and be prepared for sleep.
- Have a restful bedtime ritual. You can take a bath, drink some herbal tea or warm milk, read a book, or do something else that is restful and relaxing to help you wind down and prepare for bed.
- Use aromatherapy. Lavender, vanilla, and other soothing scents can help you to rest and relax and prepare for sleep. You can use a diffuser with essential oils or another method to enjoy the benefits of aromatherapy to help you fall asleep at night.
- Get up and go to bed at the same time every day. When you get up and go to bed at the same time every day and night, your body begins to adjust to that rhythm. Soon, you may not need an alarm clock in the morning or a reminder to go to bed at night; your body will be naturally ready to do both.
In addition to the little things you can do to create a positive sleep space and prepare yourself for bed, you can also do things during the day that will improve your quality of sleep.
First, you can work out. When you exercise regularly – both cardiovascular exercises that get your heart rate up and weight-bearing exercises that build strength – you tire yourself out naturally, making it easier to fall asleep.
Second, you can eat well. When you are eating lots of produce and lean proteins, and staying away from too much caffeine (especially in the hours before bed) and sugar throughout the day, your body will become more efficient at processing food to gain the nutrients it needs for proper function. Additionally, balanced eating can help you to maintain a healthy weight; this is important because being overweight can contribute to sleep issues such as sleep apnea, which can greatly diminish your quality of sleep.
The Importance of Sleep
Sleep plays a vital role in our overall health and wellbeing. It is during sleep that our bodies recover and repair themselves. When we sleep, our bodies produce hormones that promote muscle growth and repair. Lack of sleep can lead to a decrease in growth hormone production, which can negatively impact muscle recovery.
In addition to muscle recovery, sleep also affects our mental health. Lack of sleep can lead to increased stress levels, which can hinder our recovery process. When we are stressed, our bodies produce cortisol, which can break down muscle tissue.
How Sleep Affects Recovery
Sleep deprivation can have a significant impact on our recovery process. When we don't get enough sleep, our bodies don't have enough time to repair and recover from physical activities. This can lead to decreased muscle growth and increased risk of injury.
Lack of sleep can also affect our immune system, making us more susceptible to illness and infection. This can further hinder our recovery process, as our bodies need to focus on fighting off illness rather than repairing muscle tissue.
Tips for Getting Better Sleep
Getting enough sleep is essential for our recovery process. Here are some tips to help you get better sleep:
- Stick to a sleep schedule: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine: Take a warm bath, read a book, or listen to calming music before bed.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol: Caffeine and alcohol can disrupt sleep, so it's best to limit your intake.
- Make your bedroom a sleep-friendly environment: Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool to promote sleep.
- Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows: A comfortable sleep surface can help you get better quality sleep.
Recommended Hours of Sleep for Optimal Recovery
While the amount of sleep required for optimal recovery can vary from person to person, most experts recommend getting between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. This is especially important for athletes and those who engage in regular physical activity.
During sleep, our bodies release hormones that promote muscle growth and repair. Getting enough sleep ensures that our bodies have ample time to recover from physical activities and prepare for the next day's workout.
It's also important to note that quality of sleep is just as important as quantity. If you struggle with getting a full night's rest, try implementing some of the tips mentioned earlier, such as sticking to a sleep schedule or creating a relaxing bedtime routine. By prioritizing your sleep, you'll be able to optimize your recovery and achieve your fitness goals more efficiently.
Tracking Your Sleep Quality and Duration
Getting enough sleep is essential for optimal recovery, but how do you know if you're getting enough? One way to ensure that you are getting adequate rest is by tracking your sleep quality and duration.
There are several tools available to help track your sleep, including wearable devices, smartphone apps, and even traditional pen-and-paper sleep logs. These tools can provide valuable insights into your sleep patterns and help you identify any issues that may be affecting the quality of your rest.
When tracking your sleep, it's important to pay attention to both the quantity and quality of your rest. Ideally, you should aim for 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. However, even if you are getting the recommended amount of sleep, poor quality rest can still negatively impact your recovery process.
To track the quality of your sleep, look for patterns in factors such as:
- Time taken to fall asleep
- Number of times waking up during the night
- Total time spent in deep REM sleep
By identifying patterns in these factors over time, you can make adjustments to improve the quality of your rest and optimize your recovery process.
The Impact of Screen Time on Sleep Quality
In today's digital age, many of us spend a significant amount of time in front of screens. Whether it's working on a computer, scrolling through social media on our phones, or binge-watching our favorite shows, screen time has become an integral part of our daily lives. However, excessive screen time can negatively impact our sleep quality.
The blue light emitted by screens can disrupt our natural sleep-wake cycle, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Additionally, the content we consume on screens can be stimulating and keep our minds active when we should be winding down for the night.
How to Minimize the Effects of Screen Time
While it may not be possible to eliminate screen time entirely from our daily routines, there are steps we can take to minimize its effects on our sleep quality:
- Avoid using screens at least an hour before bedtime: This gives your brain time to wind down and prepare for sleep.
- Use blue light filters: Many devices now come with built-in blue light filters that reduce the amount of blue light emitted by screens. You can also download apps that do this or purchase special glasses that block blue light.
- Opt for relaxing activities before bed: Instead of scrolling through social media or watching TV before bed, try reading a book or practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation or deep breathing.
- Keep your bedroom screen-free: Try not to use screens in your bedroom at all. This will help you associate your bedroom with sleep rather than stimulation.
By implementing these tips, you can reduce the negative effects of screen time on your sleep quality and improve your overall recovery process.
Treatment for Sleep Disorders
If you implement all the lifestyle tips listed above, continue to do so faithfully for a period of a month or more, and see no improvement in your ability to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep, talk to your doctor about the different sleep disorders that may be impacting you. It may be that a sleep clinic will be able to pinpoint issues you had not identified in the past and help you to get back on track, building up your reserves so you are better able to avoid relapse in recovery.
The Benefits of Napping for Recovery
While getting a full night's rest is essential for optimal recovery, napping can also provide a variety of benefits. Taking a nap during the day can help reduce fatigue and increase alertness, which can be especially helpful for those who engage in physically demanding activities.
Napping can also help improve cognitive function, memory retention, and overall mood. Studies have shown that even just a 20-minute nap can provide significant benefits in terms of increased productivity and performance.
When to Take a Nap
While napping can be beneficial for recovery, it's important to know when it's appropriate to take a nap. Napping too close to bedtime can disrupt your natural sleep-wake cycle and make it harder to fall asleep at night.
Additionally, napping for too long or too frequently can lead to feelings of grogginess and interfere with nighttime sleep quality. It's best to limit naps to 30 minutes or less and avoid taking them late in the day.
If you find yourself feeling fatigued or sluggish during the day, taking a short nap may be just what you need to recharge and optimize your recovery process.
Sleep is a vital component of our recovery process. Lack of sleep can negatively impact our muscle growth, immune system, and mental health. By prioritizing sleep and following the tips outlined in this article, you can ensure that you are giving your body the time it needs to recover and repair itself. So next time you are tempted to skip out on sleep, remember that it could be putting your recovery in jeopardy.
- Sleep Foundation - https://www.sleepfoundation.org/
- National Sleep Foundation - https://www.sleepfoundation.org/
- American Academy of Sleep Medicine - https://aasm.org/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html
- Mayo Clinic - https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/sleep/art-20048379