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Optimizing Performance and Recovery with Sleep

The average person spends about one-third of their life asleep. This begs the question: why is sleep so important and how does it affect your ability to perform and recover?

At Lift Clinic, we believe in taking a holistic approach to performance and rehabilitation. When you come in for your initial assessment, we start by asking a number of questions to get a better understanding of your lifestyle and overall wellbeing. We might ask questions about your stress levels, physical activity levels, and sleep habits. A lack of sleep or poor quality sleep may be a yellow flag for pain and suboptimal performance. Fortunately, your sleep habits can always be improved and this first step is to learn about its importance. 

Read on to learn more about how your sleep can affect your capacity for performance and rehabilitation and how you can improve your sleep to get closer to feeling and performing at 100%!

 

Why should you care about sleep?

There are two things that we look for when we ask you about your sleep. First, we ask you how much sleep you are getting. In general, we look to see if you are getting eight hours of sleep or not. We want to know if you are getting enough sleep because it helps us get a sense of how much your body is able to recover each night. 

The second thing we ask about is the quality of your sleep. Sleep quality includes your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night. Asking about the quality of your sleep not only helps us learn more about how you are recovering, but it can help uncover other factors such as pain or discomfort which may affect how you sleep. All of these things are important considerations when our aim is to find the root cause of your pain

Sleep also gives us insight into other components that may be affecting your performance and rehabilitation. For example, poor sleep can be caused by excessive activity of your sympathetic nervous system. This is the “fight or flight” system in your body that responds to high stress situations. Chronic stress has a direct effect on your sleep as well as your capacity for performance and recovery. In this way, learning about your sleep can be a helpful way for us to understand other factors that are affecting your ability to perform at 100%.

Why is sleep important for recovery?

Sleep is the time for our bodies to recover and restore both our physical and mental functions. We need sleep to recover from a workout and to recover optimally when rehabilitating an injury. When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies are not able to fully recover from the activities that we do throughout the day. This can lead to suboptimal performance and can also have implications on our risk for chronic pain and injury. In fact, in a study done on adolescent athletes, researchers found that those who routinely got less than 8 hours of sleep were 1.7 times more likely to sustain an injury than those who sleep more than eight hours [1]. 

How does sleep affect performance?

In addition to recovery, sleep also has profound effects on your ability to perform throughout the day. There is plenty of research that has linked a lack of sleep to decreased muscle strength and aerobic capacity (how well you can perform cardio activities) [2]. These have an impact on your ability to perform in the gym, on the field, or in everyday life. 

On top of this, sleep can also have an effect on your mobility and posture. A mentioned earlier, poor sleep is often linked with high functioning of the sympathetic nervous system. This can cause muscular tension and poor posture which limits the ability of your body to move freely. The result is soreness, muscular fatigue, and discomfort.

Improving your sleep

Okay, so now you understand the importance of sleep and it effects on performance and recovery, but the question is, how can you do better? Listed below are five of the latest tips that researchers recommend to improve your sleep [3]:

With sleep, quality over quantity doesn’t really apply. You need both! When we ask clients about their sleep, we generally look to see if they are getting 8 hours of sleep.

However, this number is not universal. Many times, athletes and adolescents will find that they may benefit from up to 9-10 hours of sleep.

How do you ensure those 8 hours? Set a bedtime, and be sure to compliment it with a wind-down routine. 

In certain circumstances it’s impossible to get enough sleep during the night (kids, noises outside, your schedule). Sometimes, you’re just looking for a boost in alertness during the day. Either way, you may benefit from taking daytime naps.

Researchers have found that although napping does not replace nighttime sleeping, a 20-30 minute nap can be an effective supplement to nighttime sleep [3]. 

Sleep hygiene refers to habits that improve sleep quality. Some examples of good sleep hygiene include:

  • avoiding caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime
  • limiting screen time before bed
  • having consistent bedtime and wake-up times
  • have a daily before-bed routine, such as pajamas, brush teeth, wash face, lights off, or whatever makes sense to you.
    • Pro tip: if you have any assigned rehabilitative exercises or stretches, add them to your nighttime or morning routine to keep consistent and recovery ASAP.

 

With so many different sleep hygiene tips out there, it may be helpful to use tools such as fitness trackers and sleep monitors to analyze how certain sleep habits affect affecting your sleep. For example, if you choose to take caffeine out of your diet, then using a fitness tracker can help you see if it has any effects on your heart rate variability or sleep duration. 

Your sleep chronotype refers to your natural bedtime and wake-up times. Some people may find that they are “night owls” and gravitate towards later bedtimes and wakeup times. If this sounds like you, then it might be best to push that 6:00 am workout back a couple of hours in order to maximize sleep.

If you are an “early bird” and you prefer waking up early in the morning, then you will want to avoid training late at night and make sure that you are sleeping early enough to power your early morning workout sessions.

The final tip is to use sleep monitors or fitness trackers to objectively measure your sleep. There are many gadgets on the market that take the form of watches, rings, straps, and so on. Although they are not 100% accurate overall, these gadgets are fairly accurate in tracking the quantity of sleep that you are getting.

In addition to the measure of heart rate variability, the measure of sleep duration from these gadgets can be a helpful way to analyze how different factors in your life are affecting your sleep, stress, and recovery. 

References

  1. Milewski, M. D., Skaggs, D. L., Bishop, G. A., Pace, J. L., Ibrahim, D. A., Wren, T. A., & Barzdukas, A. (2014). Chronic Lack of Sleep is Associated With Increased Sports Injuries in Adolescent Athletes. Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics, 34(2), 129-133.
  2. Walker, M. (2017). Why we sleep: Unlocking the power of sleep and dreams. Scribner.
  3. Walsh, N. P., Halson, S. L., Sargent, C., Roach, G. D., Nédélec, M., Gupta, L., . . . Samuels, C. H. (2020). Sleep and the athlete: Narrative review and 2021 expert consensus recommendations. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 55(7), 356-368.

Meet Lift Clinic - a team of Vancouver Physiotherapy, Chiropractic and RMT Massage Therapy practitioners who believe in strength and movement for life.

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