Post by Todd Fano
As a trainer people often ask me “what’s the best recovery tool”? Is it BCAA’S? Cryo therapy? Chocolate milk? While all of these things are good for recovery they all pale in comparison to the best recovery tool ever……… sleep!
It’s pretty simple really - all of the advanced recovery tools in the world won’t do you an ounce of good unless you’re getting enough sleep. So, why is sleep so important? It has to do with something called the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is a 24 hr, internal, biological process that all living creatures on the planet go through. It tells us when to eat, be active and when to sleep so we can recharge for the next waking cycle. Basically, it tells us to shut it down for a few hours so the body can recover, repair and re-charge. So, no matter how intense your training is, no matter how good your diet is - it’s all lost if you’re not letting the body fully recover. Think of it as only filling your gas tank halfway and then wondering why you run out of gas so quickly.
A study done with the Stanford university basketball team showed that with just 2 extra hours of sleep a night the players were able to improve their speed by 5% and their free throws by 9%. No extra work or practices were done, they just got some extra zzzzz’s. Some even reported to have lost some weight!
So, what causes these improvements? To answer that we have to look at what happens when you don’t get enough sleep. When you are sleep deprived your body’s production of glycogen decreases. Glycogen is your body’s main energy source, so, once again you’re only filling the gas tank halfway. This, as you can imagine, will lead to a decrease in performance and an increase in fatigue. Your body will also start to produce more cortisol, the hormone responsible for storing extra fat. That’s a double whammy! Not only are you too tired to properly train you’re also storing more fat.
Here are some pointers and tips for not only getting adequate hours of sleep, but to improve sleep quality (just as important) as well.
Aim for 6-9 hrs. of sleep a night.
Set a regular schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same times every day (yes that means weekends).
Avoid liquids and caffeine at night. Definitely stay away from alcohol.
Try and keep your bedroom dark and cool. The sleep cycle won’t start unless the body’s temperature has dropped. The light will also disrupt the onset of the sleep cycle. This means trying to eliminate all light from your room - we’re talking blackout.
Try doing something calming and relaxing. Try reading a book, meditation, breathing exercises, listen to a podcast or have a hot bath.
Avoid TV or screen time at least 30 minutes before bed, ideally 1 hour before bed. Technology close to bedtime negatively impacts two fold: 1. It revs up the electrical activity in our brain (the exact opposite of what we want at bedtime. 2. The light from these devices pass through the retina into a part of the hypothalamus (the area of the brain that controls several sleep activities) and delay the release of the sleep-inducing hormone - melatonin.
So, whether you’re a college athlete looking to boost their performance, someone looking to drop a few pounds or you’re simply sick and tired of being sick and tired. All you have to do is shut off the lights, turn down the heat and relax. Let nature’s recovery tool do all the work for you.