Before we jump into this blog post, I want to announce that I am going to be publishing another ebook! Woohoo! This time, it will be targeted towards overall recovery, not just stretching. Stretching is just one of many things you can do to recover better and faster; sleep is another! So leading up to the recovery guide, there will be more posts like this one about recovery and then I will compile all my top tips into one easy to read guide that will be available on my website! In the meantime, make sure you grab yourself a copy of my FREE stretch guide to tie you over until the next one!
Now let’s get back to sleep…
We all know sleep is important but we all struggle to get enough. Getting 6 hours or less on 4 consecutive nights is classified as sleep deprivation. Being sleep deprived is no joke. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, you can look forward to increased fatigue, disrupted immune function and appetite regulation, decreased overall mood and decrease in performance.
A huge part of every athlete’s recovery is sleep. Sleep deprivation can have a huge impact on sub-maximal efforts over prolonged periods (ie long distance running or trainings that last longer than 30 minutes) especially in the first 2 nights without proper sleep. Athletes have been found to spend more time in bed than non athletes but have reported difficulty in getting to sleep or find themselves waking up in the night or early morning therefore resulting in lower quality sleep. Nervousness before competitions, excessive thinking and planning, late or early trainings teamed up with poor sleep habits, poor sleep routine, screen time and caffeine consumption can all affect sleep quality and therefore your recovery.
Phases of sleep and why you should care
Let’s dive into the phases of sleep. Sleep is broken up into 3 distinct phases, light sleep, deep sleep (or slow wave sleep) and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. For athletes, the important phases are deep and REM sleep.
Deep sleep is known for being physically restorative. We release human growth hormone during deep sleep which help us restore our muscles from that day’s training. Contrary to popular belief, our bodies don’t get stronger during training, we damage them during training. It’s during recovery over the following days that we see gains. Deep sleep helps turn that stimuli we applied during training, into gains.
REM sleep is where mental processes are restored. It is known as the phase where the brain is active (dreaming) but the body is ‘paralysed’. At first, restoring mental processes may not seem important to athletes but things like form, skill and game strategy are all solidified during REM sleep. In addition to this, it is also thought to increase grit, motivation and help athletes accurately judged how much they have left in the tank and how much to lay out on the line on race day. The duration of REM sleep in the night’s leading up to a big race has been found to be the biggest predictor of performance. As it was spoken about on the sleep episode podcast by Marathon Training Academy, we all know that the athlete with the biggest muscles doesn’t often win the day. In almost every sport, mental resilience and determination are better predictors of who the winner will be. REM sleep is where most of our mental game plan is solidified.
So what if you just can’t get enough sleep during the night?
Naps under 1 hour have been shown to be beneficial in reducing the effects of sleep deprivation by increasing alertness, mood and even improving reaction times. Sprint performance has been shown to improve with a 30 minute nap when compared to a control group. Be careful though, napping for longer than 20min but less than 90 minutes can leave you feeling groggy and more tired than before the nap. This is because of something called sleep inertia which is the tendency for us to want to stay asleep once we are asleep. After 90 minutes, you go through a full sleep cycle and so you get the full benefits of a restorative sleep. So even if you wake up fighting sleep inertia and are a little bit groggy, at least you have gone through deep and REM sleep. The down side to napping is that it can be harder to fall asleep at night. But this doesn’t seem to be an issue if you are waking up from your nap 6-8 hours before you are planning on going to bed that night. So if you plan on going to bed at 11pm you want to avoid napping after 5pm. Another trick suggested by sleep expert Emily Breslow, is to have a coffee right before having a nap. The caffeine will take about 20 minutes to digest and it will wake you up before you gather any significant sleep inertia. And on top of that, you’ll wake up with a caffeine hit ready to smash out your after school or work training!
Over the next few weeks I will be researching and testing out different recovery tips and tricks for my ebook so keep a look out for more updates! Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the next post!