We all know that getting your beauty sleep is important. What you may not know, is just how important it is for recovery and performance. If you haven’t read part I of recovery, click here. Part II of the recovery post will give some details about sleep, as well as some tips on improving the quality of sleep.
Getting a quality night’s rest is important not only for overall well-being, but also for performance. Sleep is generally thought of as a time for regeneration and rejuvenation. Sleep deprivation has been associated with decreases in attention, executive function, immediate memory, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, and logical reasoning just to name a few (Alhola 2007). Let’s dive into what sleep is and its role with regeneration.
Circadian rhythm is a 24 hour cycle that regulates our sleep among other physiological processes. The circadian rhythm is regulated by two armies. One army is the homeostatic army (Process S) which is fights for sleep. The other army, called the circadian arousal system (Process C), fights to stay awake. These two processes are constantly fluctuating between going to sleep and being awake.
Your body has a natural circadian rhythm that it follows, but it can be influenced by external factors. Light exposure is the primary external factor that modifies your circadian rhythm. Typically your body orients itself with sunlight, however, artificial lights (laptops, TVs, iPhones, house lights, etc…) can all alter your circadian rhythm. Other factors included exercise, melatonin, diet, and temperature.
Your circadian rhythm also influences many of your hormonal systems. Cortisol (the stress hormone), growth hormone, and insulin are a few of the hormones that can be effected by the circadian rhythm.
For those not familiar with your hormones, here’s a quick review of endocrinology 101:
- Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands and normally help regulate blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and immune function. Prolonged elevation of cortisol is problematic for many reasons including tissue degradation, blood sugar imbalance, and impaired immune function.
- Growth hormone is secreted by the anterior pituitary gland and promotes cell regeneration and repair.
- Insulin is secreted by the pancreas, and regulates blood glucose (sugar) levels. Dysfunction of insulin production is associated with diabetes.
Altered circadian rhythms effects those hormones mentioned above, which effects some pretty important functions. In a nutshell, improve your sleep patterns, improve your hormones.
So how much sleep do you need per night? Well, that is a difficult question to answer. There is no perfect answer for exactly how much sleep you need, but the National Sleep Foundation recommends between 7-9 hours per night. Although everyone’s needs are different, the average amount of sleep needed is somewhere in that range. Many Americans report less than 7 hours of sleep which can lead to sleep debt (the difference between how much sleep you are getting and how much sleep you need). For example, let’s say you only get 6 hours of sleep every night. Over the course of a week, you would be 7 hours deficient… Or one day less of sleep per week! While quantity is important, it is also important to look at the quality of sleep. Fragmented sleep patterns are not the same as a solid night of rest.
So how can you improve your sleep?
Set a sleep schedule - Just like anything, you need to commit to getting an adequate amount of rest each night. Set a time when you will be in bed and keep that time consistent throughout the week. Frequently changing the time when you go to bed and wake up will change your sleep rhythm.
Create a bedtime routine - The day is stressful. Find a routine that works for you to relax before going to bed. Try drinking a cup of non-caffeinated tea, meditating, listening to soft/soothing music, or doing a little yoga can help you relax. Also make sure your bed is comfortable, after all, you spend about a third of your life there (oh, and don’t sleep on your stomach, it’s just not good for you).
Turn off electronics an hour before going to bed - As described above, light stimulates the circadian arousal system, making it more difficult to go to sleep. Turn off the TV, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch (if you already have it), and any other electronics around you. Remember, you are in bed to sleep, not to do business.
Now we have some active techniques and resting strategies to aid in recovery and boost performance. The final blog on recovery will tackle nutrition.
Alhola, Paula, and Päivi Polo-Kantola. “Sleep Deprivation: Impact on Cognitive Performance.” Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment 3.5 (2007): 553–567.