Sleep is an essential aspect of life, no matter who you are. For athletes, though, it’s an ingredient in the recipe for success that can’t be replaced with anything else. The same is true for non-athletes who exercise regularly, especially those who consistently push themselves to new levels of achievement. In short, sleep is essential for recovery. But what, exactly, does this mean?
Sleep and Exercise Recovery
When we exercise, we put stress on our muscles, heart, tendons/ligaments, and other body systems. This stress is calculated, as it stimulates our bodies to recover stronger than they were before the stress took place. When the body experiences stress, it “anticipates” that such stress may continue in the future, and prepares itself by packing on muscle and increasing agility. However, it takes time for these changes to take effect, and sleep is the time when the greatest improvements are made.
William and Mary athletics research indicates that it takes about one hour of sleep for an athlete to recover from 2 hours of bodily stress. Therefore, 16 hours of wakefulness and training would require a full 8 hours to build back to 100%. Obviously, in the case of extreme strenuous exercise, the body may require multiple days to fully recover, with each night of sleep playing an important role. Ideally, the athlete will be conditioned to difficult training, though, and therefore a single night of sleep will do most of the work.
When we don’t sleep enough after difficult training, we enter the next day only partially recovered. Our bodies must then continue the difficult process of recovery while also handling the burden of daily tasks and responsibilities, possibly with the added burden of further exercise. During such exercise, strength and mobility will be limited, reducing the effectiveness of weight-lifting, running, or whatever other form of exercise you practice. In many way, exercise of this sort is “going through the motions” – dragging oneself in a state of exhaustion through a routine, without reaping the benefits that good sleep can provide.
How to Improve Sleep Quality for Optimal Exercise Recovery
If you aren’t sleeping enough, the first step is to make time for sufficient sleep. Give yourself at least 8 hours of undisturbed time, and be willing to go to bed early enough in the evening to achieve it. It’s important to follow all of the useful practices that can contribute to good sleep, such as removing electric lights from the bedroom, “winding down” sufficiently early to drift off to sleep, and avoiding food, drink, and chemicals like caffeine even hours prior to slumber.
Another way to improve sleep quality, though, is to simply exercise more! Exercise and sleep go hand in hand. The more tired you are, the more your body will naturally reach out for the restorative power that a night of quality rest can provide. If you are a natural insomniac, chances are that vigorous exercise during the day may be enough to help turn the tide. In fact, the exercise>sleep connection is so powerful that it’s been described as a positive “vicious cycle”, one which builds to a beneficial outcome in a rapid and surprising fashion.
If you still have trouble sleeping, even with your fitness goals being achieved during the day, there are supplements that can help. TravaCor by NeuroScience, Sleep Time by Nutritional Frontiers, and Melatonin 3 mg by Pure Encapsulations each have a unique herbal/natural formulation that can help the body naturally relax for high quality sleep each night. Try any of them while also improving your daytime exertion practices, and you should be slumbering beneficially soon enough.