With us being right in the middle of our fitness challenge, I thought it was a good time to dig this gem from the archives and share it with you. We all know that sleep plays a major role in the overall recovery process yet it is often overlooked. Our very own Jess Clark explains how to address this issue. Enjoy.
As someone who works odd hours of the week (6AM-8:30PM) and then nights on the weekends (10:30PM-6:00AM), I am only too familiar with the struggle of getting a good night’s sleep and the subsequent negative effects it can have on health, performance, and overall quality of life. However, these effects are not unique to those who work shifts or odd hours of the week and increasingly I see the same patterns arising within those involved in fitness.
First, it is important to point out that as humans we are driven by rhythm. To be more exact the circadian rhythm, which is a 24-hour process that many animals and organisms experience on a daily basis coinciding with Earth’s rotation. Getting caught up in our day-to-day is easy with work, family and friends, training, and other commitments but acknowledging this natural rhythm, more importantly, respecting it, is vital for our health and durability as human beings.
The chart below is the relationship between two hormones, melatonin (blue line) and cortisol (red line) throughout the day and night. Endocrinology 101: melatonin is responsible for regulation of sleep and cortisol is responsible for a number of functions and is released in response to stress.
Compare your daily schedule to the chart above. This should give you an idea of why your sleep might be sub-optimal. What times of day do you currently train? When do you go to bed? What time do you actually fall asleep and wake up?
Keep in mind that training is a form of stress, whether we view it that way or not. As an athlete training, you want to achieve the minimum effective dose to ensure you adapt and improve your training, but not so much stress that you fatigue or over train. It is a fine balance to find given everything else going on in life.
For me I can’t train late at night since I will be amped up all night and unable to sleep. Looking at the graph above this makes sense now since the stress response your body takes is to raise cortisol levels, delaying sleep. Likewise, watching TV or being on a device in bed is going to prevent the brain from being able to increase levels of melatonin and again, delay or reduce the quality of sleep. I now know why my mom cut off my TV privileges during the week days.
Training needs to be structured around your rhythm, recovery, and lifestyle. Too often I see athletes with poor sleep and highly stressful jobs or school, doing highly intense workouts day after day (often in the evening). This repeated routine is certainly a recipe for injury in the short term and illness in the longer-term.
When it comes to managing overall training volume, lifestyle stressors, and recovery, sleep is primary. As a benchmark to aim for, try to get 8-9 hours per night. There are different recommendations based upon age but one should take into account other factors such as activity levels.
Here’s a few simple strategies that can be implemented into your routine to dramatically increase both sleep quality and quantity as well as supporting a natural and healthy circadian rhythm.
#1 Sleep in 100% Darkness
Sounds intuitive right? Surprisingly there are a lot of things that produce just enough light in the room to stimulate your optic nerve and in turn inhibit the pineal gland from secreting melatonin essential for deep and restful sleep.
Alarm clock lights, LED lights from your phone, light from a fan or other electronics in the room should go or be covered especially if they are blue light since the body is more sensitive to this type of light. If you need to go to the bathroom at night- DO NOT turn on the lights!
As soon as you awake try to get exposure to sunlight to boost cortisol levels and stop melatonin production. Then as soon as possible, get outside for 30 minutes in the sun or get moving.
#2 Don’t Use Devices Before Bed
That’s right, no phone, no TV, no late night studying or reading on a computer or other electronic device. If you have to, limit the amount of exposure to blue light or turn the brightness down.
A common factor for people struggling to sleep, is that of having thoughts running through their head, or analyzing conversations from the day and therefore worrying about them. In the lead up to sleep, your goal should be to unwind and stimulate the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system [responsible for resting and digesting]. There are number of simple ways in which we can do this:
- Mindfulness/meditation – there’s a plethora of methods out there which can be a little confusing at first but well worth it.
- Breathing – spend time practicing quality deep breaths where you aim to fill the belly with air. 50 quality breaths (3 sec inhale, 3 sec hold, 3 sec exhale, 3 sec hold) DAILY is good practice and the evening is an ideal time to perform these.
- Brain dump – on those evenings where your mind is running with thoughts, ideas, or worries, get them on paper. Writing them out, creating a “to do” list can be a powerful tool to ‘empty’ them from your brain. I write them out on paper then put them on my phone’s “Notes” app in the morning to avoid using a device at night.
I hope this article is informative and will help you better the quality of your sleep. If you have any questions regarding bettering your recovery methods please feel free to stop into LiftLab and talk to one of our coaches or drop me a line at Jessie@liftlabco.com.