Part 3:  Sleep is essential to proper recovery


One of the most important (and least discussed) aspects of recovery is that thing we do for about 1/3 of our lives --- sleep. 


Pursuing athletic or physique goals certainly involves training and nutrition, and much of the information we acquire as we try to educate ourselves or the athletes we coach centers around these two topics.  However, for the purposes of recovery, sleep is arguably just as important as training and nutrition.  Unfortunately, for many of us, sleep is treated as an afterthought in our busy, hyper-committed lives.


Ian King, one of the world’s foremost strength coaches and coach of numerous Olympic athletes, places a great deal of emphasis on the importance of sleep.  “Sleep is incredibly important in the training process with its contribution to recovery.  In reality, it’s a full-fledged member of what I call the training triangle – eating, training, and sleeping.”


Imagine if we were all as structured and disciplined about sleep as we are about training and nutrition!  I daresay we’d generally feel better and by more fully recovered from our workouts.


Why is sleep so important?  Sleep is essential for all of us, and not just because of our athletic endeavors.  Much of the reason why sleep is important has to do with brain health.  Without going into a complex discussion of the brain and how it works during sleep, just know that sleep is a time for brain chemicals to restore and re-balance.  Many of these chemicals play a role in physical recovery as well, notably cortisol and growth hormone.   A lack of sleep can have detrimental effects on energy levels, hormonal balance, appetite, and immune system function.


Both the quality and the quantity of sleep are important for optimizing recovery.  While everyone is different, it’s generally agreed upon that healthy adults need 6-8 hours of sleep each night.  Many scholars believe that athletes involved in regular, strenuous activity need more sleep than regular adults, particularly for the purposes of maximizing recovery – something more like 8-10 hours each night. 


In any case, the quality of sleep is best when it’s uninterrupted.  For this reason, it might be necessary for some of us to develop better habits so that we are not sabotaging the quality of our sleep.  Here are some suggestions:


  • Try to ensure that the room you sleep in is dark and noise free. There is some evidence that a darker room will help to optimize the release of growth hormone and other hormones that are released during sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine within 6 hours of going to sleep. As a stimulant, caffeine can make it difficult to fall asleep (thank you, Captain Obvious). Even if you have a high tolerance to caffeine and it doesn’t cause problem for you in falling asleep, caffeine tends to suppress deep sleep, thus having a negative effect on sleep quality.
  • Avoid alcohol within 3-5 hours of going to sleep. While alcohol is a depressant, not a stimulant, it can also have a negative impact on the quality of sleep.  Alcohol also suppresses deep sleep, produces sleep fragmentation, increases snoring, and can worsen the severity of obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Create a pattern for sleep and stick to it. If possible, adhere to a regular bed time and waking time.  Wide fluctuations in sleep schedules can have a negative impact on sleep quality, even if you’re sleeping the same amount of time.  Obviously, there are lots of real-life reasons why this may not be possible for everyone (particularly for those with infants or young children).
  • Spend some time relaxing before you go to bed. It can be difficult for some to drift off to sleep if you have been physically or mentally active right up until bedtime.
  • If you use a sleep inducing product (we carry a few at Rexius Nutrition), try not to use them for more than 3 nights in a row. Save these products for when you most need them – i.e., struggling to get to sleep, working late and have limited hours available to sleep, or sleeping while traveling (especially in a different time zone).

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