Why Sleep is the Best Recovery Tool & 5 Ways To Get More

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Talking with a few people following the Crossfit Games, it has come to my attention that the only thing holding the average Joe or Jane from being the next Rich Froning or Sam Briggs is that they need to sleep 9-10 hours a night. While I’m not sure I agree with that, I can guarantee that more sleep will help you to recover better, and in turn, be a better athlete. A top quality training regiment and a supplement program designed in a lab specifically for you to kick butt helps, but all the bells and whistles won’t blow unless you have adequate rest (sleep). Relaxing can help you make those gains but without sufficient amounts of sleep your body will not be able to adapt and grow and you might as well have never stepped foot in the gym in the first place.

For any individual that demands a lot out of their body, sleep is key. Ideally you want 8-10 hours of sleep but I understand this is the real work and sometimes all you get is 5-7. Take what you can get, but try to make a conscious effort to get more than that. I include naps in that time frame too. One of my training partners once asked Wes Barnett (1996 Olympian, 1997 World Bronze Medalist) what his best habit for training was and he simply said ‘Sleep, whenever, and wherever you can get it. Don’t be picky just take advantage of it as often as you can.”

During sleep all kinds of crazy is going on in your body. It goes into a catabolic state (or fasting) because it will be quite some since you have eaten and another length of time before you eat again. Offset this by having a SMALL high protein meal or protein shake before bed. If you don’t eat something before bed, your body will then start breaking down muscle and there goes the gains. You will still be hungry when you get up and that’s fine, but make sure to get something in your belly around 30 minutes after you get up. Another process going on in your body during sleep is growth hormone. In men especially, 70% of their daily growth hormone release comes during this time period. The deeper the sleep, the more GH gets released, so obviously poor sleep habits can effect your GH synthesis and no one wants that.

Research also suggests that it’s during Rapid Eye Movement sleep (we’ll explain later) that the body is restoring organs, bones, and tissue, replenishing immune cells, and circulating human growth hormone. So the bottom line is that the more adequate sleep you get, the better your body will feel. The other nifty thing going on during sleep is that the brain is recharging it’s batteries. During sleep, levels of a specific neurotransmitter decline. Blocking this transmitter in the brain allows you to be more alert, which suggests that during sleep the brain is recharging. Cool, huh?

Now with sleep there are a few stages that you go through:

Stage 1-The eyes are closed during Stage 1 sleep. You can be woken up without difficulty, however, if you are woken up from this stage of sleep, you’ll feel like you haven’t slept at all.

Stage 2-This is where the muscles start to relax, the heart rate slows, and the body temperature decreases. At this point, the body prepares to enter deep sleep

Stage 3 and 4-These are deep sleep stages, with stage 4 being more intense than Stage 3. These stages are known as slow-wave, or delta, sleep. This is when a lot of the magic the body performs takes place. If aroused from sleep during these stages, a person may feel disoriented for a few minutes.

Now that you know probably more than you wanted to about sleep, here are a few tips to help yourself get more of this and keep on getting after it in training.

  1. Melatonin-This is a substance that is naturally occurring in the body and is responsible for you falling asleep faster. You can get it in the pill form at any local pharmacy and take a few before bed. I suggest taking around 1-3 g at a time, but excess melatonin has been known to give some people weird dreams or nightmares. This may not work well for you. I don’t suggest taking it every night because you don’t want to have to rely on a pill to go to sleep each night. Plus, just like anything else you take that is naturally found in the body, if your body senses you are getting adequate amounts from an outside source, it may shut off or slow down production of it’s own.
  2. Valerian Root Extract– This is a medicine that is derived from the Valeria plant root. Taking one pill (5 g) before bed can help you attain more restful sleep. I had a friend suggest to me that taking this in conjunction with melatonin can give you a good night’s sleep without the habit forming effects of a sleeping pill. On days I have a rough training or work schedule ahead of me, this combination works great, but I try not to take it every night.
  3. Limiting Caffeine- With all the energy drinks, pre-workouts, and 5 hour energy ads out there, you are probably ingesting WAY too much caffeine for one day. Limiting the amount of alcohol and tyosine you have before bed can help assure stable sleep patterns. My suggestion is to ideally cut these off at least 5-6 hours before you head to bed. I understand some people work out in the evenings, but keep in mind you do have to sleep, so maybe only one Monster instead of two, okay? The point is you should be trying to wind down before bed and that may be hard to do if you are running up walls at 10 pm.
  4. Cool Down- Your wife/girlfriend/roommate might hate this one, but try to keep where you sleep cool (around 65-70 degrees). The cooler the room is, the better the sleep. Humidity can make trying to sleep uncomfortable and cause restless sleep throughout the night and that is no good. It’s easier to grab a blanket than to not use any and still be warm, right? Remember all the magic that goes on when you get into deep sleep.
  5. Get A Routine- Just like your parents did for you when you were a child, get yourself a routine before bed. This lets your body know what is about to happen and ingrains a good habit before heading to bed. For instance, I make my nighttime shake, then take my dogs out to do their business, and finish off with some light stretching, foam rolling, etc. before heading to bed. I also refuse to put a TV in my bedroom. The bedroom has a limited number of activities allowed and watching TV is not one of them. 

If you want be a stronger, healthier, and better off person, you need sleep. The longer you are in deep sleep, the better you’ll recover. There may be some tinkering required on your part to find out the best combination needed to get the best quality sleep, but the beauty is once you figure out that magic combination, it doesn’t matter where you sleep: you will be able to repeat your new found success over and over.

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