The best form of recovery for your body is sleep. The importance of sleep and exercise and how closely your performance and results are related can’t be understated. In this feature, we go into more detail about how much sleep plays a part in recovery and performance and how you can get the best out of your sleeping habits.
Sleep not only assist in recovery and performance for athletes, but it also has a major effect on general health, illness, depression and stress. If you consider all that and if you’re serious about performance in any sport and take your mental and physical health seriously, then sleep will be a major factor for you.
When you train hard, especially doing HIIT training, CrossFit, Olympic weightlifting, etc., your central nervous system takes a pounding. It’s a good thing, because that is what allows you to get better at the sport you’re doing, but recovery from this exertion is essential. Even the best training programmes will be limited if rest, recovery and nutrition are neglected. So why waste all that hard work!
Sleep is not just a simple on and off scenario. Sleep runs in several stages: 1, 2, 3, 4 and REM (Rapid Eye Movement). To explain the stages of sleep as simply as possible, each stage from 1-4 is a deeper state of sleep. As you fall asleep you quickly transition from stage 1 to 4 within an hour. You then slowly starts moving from stage 4-1, cycling through various loops of REM, where you’re actually closer to being awake at those times. Eventually you hit the last stage of REM, stage 1 and then wake up. The below diagram shows it very well.
The point here is that you can see that in order to maximise your recovery time through sleep, as an adult, you need at least eight hours of sleep to get through the various stages and loops of REM your body needs. Furthermore, what’s important is that you can’t catch up sleep. Oversleeping to catch up sleep (10+ hours) could potentially change the body’s patterns and make it more difficult to sleep the following night. And other recovery methods of recovery would only temporarily help.
By waking up during an inappropriate stage of sleep you won’t recover as required and you can potentially start suffering from sleep disorders in the long run. It’s in fact better to wake up during a loop of REM rather than when you’re in a state of deeper sleep, even if it means getting a few minutes less sleep. Weird as it sounds, it’s all about how your body reacts when forced to wake up during whichever stage of sleep you’re in.
Ultimately, the goal you should have in mind is to target at least eight hours of sleep. If you can’t because of your lifestyle (training, work, family, etc.), then try planning your sleep around the time you do have to sleep and use the chart above to wake yourself up during the closest stage of REM. You’ll feel fresher, not as disoriented and more productive.
A great way to help you with this is to use an App, like this one, which can assist in planning your sleep and waking you up during the best time.
You need to rest and recover in the best way possible, to give yourself the best chance of performing optimally when you train. Work on making sleep as much of a priority in your life as training and nutrition are and you will reap the rewards!