Rest and Recovery 101: Sleeping Your Way To Better Gains

   

Recovery is simply defined as regaining a former or better state / condition. Most athletes fail to realize that running, lifting, hitting, and throwing all breaks down our tissue which requires a period of rest in order to recuperate. Of course it takes grueling workouts and countless hours of skill training to become a better-prepared athlete. However, it is what you do between training bouts that can make the real difference.

Often times the most neglected side of training is the time spent recuperating (read: healing). In an ideal world, an athlete would be able to begin preparing for the next game or training session as soon the current activity has finished. However, a rest period is required.

The primary function of recovery is to help athletes acclimate themselves to new demands placed on the body through training. With the help of food, sleep, and range of motion (ROM) activities athletes can better prepare themselves for the next training bout. Proper adherence to regeneration strategies is vital to ensuring a complete and full recovery. In layman's terms, if you don’t let your body heal, you won’t grow.

As you can see below in Chart 1, training responses are directly correlated to the stimulus applied. It must be noted that there are diminishing returns when the stimulus exceeds adequate levels of intensity. There is a fine line between optimal training and overtraining. Based on conditioning levels and physiology, each person is different in their ability to recover. Regardless of an athlete’s level of fitness, dietary intake and sleep routines can help athletes promote full and complete recovery cycles.

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There are countless components regarding recovery; I feel the most underrated and neglected element is sleep. This is true, not only for physical recovery, but for psychological reasons as well.

Our ability to focus on a task can make a significant impact on the effects of training programs. Sleep is often undervalued because of a lack of knowledge concerning its role in human performance.  A good night’s sleep is described as 7-9 hours for adults and 8-10 hours for prepubescent athletes (Angela Calder AU). All too often we get caught up in our daily routines without concern for making sleep a top priority. IF YOUR SCHEDULE ALLOWS FOR MORE SLEEP, TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT!

To better understand the role of sleep, let me describe the different stages and its role in recovery. To begin with, while we are awake we function under electric activity called beta waves. As the day comes to an end those beta waves are then replaced by alpha waves that trigger a calm and relaxed feeling. This stage can last from 2 – 20 minutes depending on previous physical and mental activity.

Once alpha waves are present the first stage of sleep is ready to begin.  

  • Stage 1 is the lightest stage of sleep; it can last up to ten minutes and is usually distinguished by a sense of falling or body twitching.
  • Stage 2 is also short in duration lasting about 10-15 minutes. At this point you are virtually deaf and blind to external stimuli.
  • In stage 3 you enter deep sleep where brain waves significantly slow down. This is where we spend the majority of our deep sleep early in the night. As the night progresses we will spend more time in later stages of sleep.
  • Stage 4 last approx. 30-45 minutes while yielding the greatest growth hormone secretion.

It’s during this stage that athletes can experience the greatest recovery from training and competition. Finally, Stage 5 (REM- Rapid Eye Movement), is the final sleep stage where most dreaming occurs. REM is characterized by increased blood flow, heart rate, body temperature, and breathing rate. Once in stage 4 or 5 the entire cycle is started over in stage 2 and will continue to repeat itself approx. 4-6 times per night. On average each full sleep cycle takes about 90 minutes; hence, 6 full cycles will take approximately 9 hours.

Illustrated in Chart 2, brain activity will slow down and the deepest sleep will occur during stages 3 & 4.

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Chronic sleep deprivation (over the long term) can have a serious impact not only on physical performance, but other functions as well.  Generally speaking, when an individual remains awake for 24 hours their ability to solve basic math problems can decrease by 20%.  If this doesn’t catch your attention then you should consider that being sleep deprived for 24 hours could negatively impact cognitive function as much or more than alcohol.

As sleep debt piles up our brain function, reaction time, mood, and even nutrient utilization is hindered. When we lose sleep our metabolism is significantly affected and our ability to repair damaged tissue comes to a standstill! When we lose sleep our bodies become resistant to absorbing glucose from foods. This will result in a lack of energy and concentration during training and competition. Without sleep, cortisol, a stress induced hormone is secreted by the adrenal glands. Cortisol can increase blood sugar levels and interfere with carbohydrate metabolism.

It should be noted that injuries are commonly a result of fatigue, which leads to poor mechanics in movement. Whether physically or mentally fatigued, when athletes lose concentration their technique can falter and lead to injury.

OK, I’ve said enough about how sleep deficiency can be detrimental to performance, let’s take a look at how sleep can help us. When we reach our deepest levels of sleep our body releases beneficial hormones that boost immune function, reduce stress, and aid in tissue repair. By maintaining a properly functioning immune system we can fight off colds, respiratory diseases, and ultimately miss fewer training days. A full night’s sleep can lower levels of stress and minimize distractions. Sometimes we wake up and feel like our memory isn’t working the way it should. Getting a full night’s rest helps our brain to organize our thoughts and memory banks. When we are “slept out” there becomes less need for naps throughout the day. Most importantly for endurance athletes. , adequate sleep patterns will allow the heart to perform more efficiently during exercise.

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We all know that testosterone and growth hormone are banned substances by virtually all sports organizations. So taking these performance-enhancing drugs are not only wrong, but they can result in massive fines, suspensions, and permanent marks on reputations. Why take the risk?

What if you could naturally boost free testosterone and other beneficial hormones without running the risk of ever failing a drug test? You’d probably look at me like I am crazy. I don’t blame you, but SLEEP can actually do this for you!! Regular sleep patterns will give the body the rest it needs to naturally encourage tissue repairing endocrine responses (THAT’S A GOOD THING).

Your natural circadian sleep cycle won’t be changed just because you decide you want to get more sleep. It may take 1-2 weeks to reset your body’s internal clock. Be sure to set aside 8-10 hours for sleep every night rather than sleeping for 5-6 hours at night and taking long naps during the day. It’s very important to maintain habits that are conducive to helping you get a full night’s rest. This includes both daytime and nighttime routines. I suggest you train and even plan your meals around the same time each day.

At night try to avoid tobacco, caffeine, and large amounts of food, they can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Also, alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, but it limits our body’s ability to reach the deepest stages of sleep. Once you are able to establish a quality sleep routine, you will be amazed at your energy levels and how much more productive your training can be.

  1. Calder, Angela. Triathlon Coach Boyd Conrick - Expert Triathlon Coaching - Achieve Your Goals! 06 May 2009 <http://www.trainingsmartonline.com/images/Free_Triathlon_Articles/Triathlon_Training_Recovery.pdf>.
  2. "Extra Sleep Improves Athletic Performance." Science Daily: News & Articles in Science, Health, Environment & Technology. 06 May 2009 <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080609071106.htm>.
  3. "Sleep & Your Immune System...they Work Together!" Free Articles Directory | Submit Articles - ArticlesBase.com. 06 May 2009 <http://www.articlesbase.com/health-articles/sleep-your-immune-systemthey-work-together-482191.html>.
  4. "Sleep May Be Athletes' Best Performance Booster — Psychiatric News." Psychiatric News. Web. 17 Apr. 2010. <http://pn.psychiatryonline.org/content/40/16/21.1.full>.
  5. "SMS and Students." Textually.org. Web. 18 Apr. 2010. <http://www.textually.org/textually/archives/cat_sms_and_students.htm>.
  6. "The Science of Sleep - Netmums." Parenting Advice and Information in - Netmums. Web. 19 Apr. 2010. <http://www.netmums.com/support/The_science_of_sleep.4271/>.

About The Author

Herman's credentials include Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, USA Weightlifting Sports Performance Coach, and Athletic Republic Level 2. He is the President and owner of 3D Performance Training LLC where he has trained athletes in Major League Baseball, National Football League, PGA Tour, Major League Soccer, Association of Volleyball Professionals, participants in Olympic Track and Field, and Tri-athletes all around the world.

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