Getting enough sleep is probably one of the single most important parts of being able to recover properly from a hard workout. Of course, if you have a grueling workout, you might feel drowsy or mellow after – but have you ever thought how important rest is to recovering for a workout? It’s probably more important than you think!
What is Sleep?
So of course we all know what sleep is – it’s the period of time where your brain slows down, and of course, you’re not awake or truly active. But, did you know that your body is absolutely humming with activity while you’re turned off?
Sleep is characterised by two different ‘modes’ REM sleep, and non-REM sleep. You’re probably familiar with REM sleep, which is the state of rest responsible for dreams. REM sleep happens on 90-120 minute cycles, and is a period of major brain activity. If you’ve ever woken up, feeling alert and refreshed, it’s probably because you were waking up during REM sleep.
Non-REM sleep is very deep period of rest. It’s when your brain is quiet, you’re not dreaming, and the real work can get done. As blood flow to the brain is reduced (because your brain is less active) it is directed to your muscles. The body also releases growth hormone at this time of the cycle, which can help you start to rebuild from all the microtears that you caused your body during your daily activities. Non-REM sleep only accounts for 40% of your resting time, and is reserved for later in the night, when you’re well and truly out.
What happens if you don’t rest enough?
If you don’t rest enough, you’re likely not spending enough time in Non-REM Sleep, or even achieving that sleep cycle at all! Imagine, if you were only allowed to rest in 3 hour bursts, you probably aren’t ever hitting the non-REM sleep threshold. This is why if you’ve had a restless night, you may feel achey or sore the next day.
Lack of rest also puts stress on the body, which causes a release of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol causes us to retain water, and lowers the insulin response in the body. This means that food like carbs, which might normally be used for energy, can be more readily stored as fat in the body. Cortisol also inhibits muscular regeneration, causing you to recover more slowly from workouts.
How much should I sleep?
Rest requirements can be as individual as nutrition, however, at least 7 hours a night is a general recommendation. Your body is constantly cycling through non-REM and REM sleep cycles, meaning that the most time you can spend, the more you can benefit from achieving non-REM sleep.
What can be especially hard for some people is resting during the day. For our first responders, we know some of you may have off-schedules where you need to be up round the clock. If you must sleep during the day, it’s important to try to mimic a full cycle as much as possible so you can get the full benefits of a good night’s rest. Make sure there’s limited distractions to disturb your sleep, and try to keep the room as dark as possible! With a few adjustments, you’ll start to see benefits from Non-REM sleep as well!
What can you do to ensure that you’re getting your daily recommended dose of Vitamin Z? For some people, it can be as easy as going to bed a little earlier! Whatever you choose, your muscles, and mind, will thank you.