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Your Best Recovery Tool…Sleep!

Athletes constantly are looking for ways to maximize their performance. If you are someone that trains regularly, whether an athlete or a frequent exerciser, recovery is critical to your overall performance. Many athletes use recovery tactics such as nutritional supplements, compression garments, neuromuscular stimulators, heat or cooling treatments and massage. Perhaps, the most underrated recovery tool that we can utilize is SLEEP! 

Sleep is an integral part of recovery, if not the most important tool for successful recovery. The many benefits of sleep include improving hormonal regulation, mood, cognition and performance. Having a huge effect on muscle protein synthesis, it allows the athlete to maximize their gains; proper recovery increases muscle gains. If athletes wish to maximize their performance they must pay special attention to their sleep quality. The factors below should all be considered by those who wish to improve the quality of their sleep:

Environment

Research has shown that to get quality sleep we need a quiet, cool and dark room.  Make your room as dark as you are able while taking into consideration that the smallest amount of light may disturb sleep as sensors that allow us to wake are triggered by changes in light.  Optimal room temperature will vary from person to person, but a room that is too hot or too cold will be uncomfortable and hard to fully relax the body (optimal 65-68 degrees). Stimuli that trigger our senses must be reduced to a minimum!

Pre Bed Rituals

Certain activities before bedtime can make it hard to fall asleep. Using screens on phones and computers stimulate the sensors in our eyes that actually promote us to become more alert and awake, making it difficult to fall asleep. Try to turn off electronics at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. 

Relaxation Techniques

Mindful relaxation has been shown to initiate the process of falling asleep. Since our lives tend to be overstimulated with constant activities and responsibilities such as work and parenting, our bodies are reacting to multiple stimuli throughout the day. This can make it challenging to “unwind” at the end of the day. Relaxation techniques may be beneficial.  Do something which calms you down before bed; reading a book, stretching or meditation.

Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol consumption should be considered with care. Alcohol is a known sedative, however, it has a very negative effect on late stage sleep. What this means is that it may help you to initiate sleep, but most likely will affect sleep quality. Stimulants such as caffeine can also override our ability to dial down and fall asleep.  If you are going to drink alcohol it’s best to monitor your consumption and make sure to hydrate with water between drinks and avoid consuming caffeine later in the afternoon and evening.  

Routine

Our bodies thrive in routines. Effective sleep routines are just as important for recovery and athletic progression as nutrition. Athletes should be aware of the sleep they need and the techniques that will be helpful to get the appropriate amount of sleep needed for proper recovery. Athletes must be mindful of maintaining good sleep hygiene if they want to maximize both recovery and performance. 

Final Thoughts

Expensive, complex recovery methods and tools will never compare to the benefits of good sleep habits. No recovery method will ever work if you have poor sleep hygiene. Consider this a gentle reminder to prioritize your sleep habits over other tools that may only yield marginal gains. All in all, establishing good sleep hygiene will offer tremendous benefit both to the athlete and regular trainee both physically, mentally and emotionally.