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How important is sleep for our recovery?

For many athlete's, recovery is a vital component in their program. However, often it is generally the worst aspect of many athlete's program. Sleep is one aspect of recovery that is often overlooked. Many people think that recovery involves ice baths, food and stretching etc. Yet we spend one third of our lives sleeping. By getting the correct amount of sleep, generally as an athlete you will run better, swim better and lift more weight!

So why do we need sleep?

Humans need sleep to help restore and refuel our body's energy supplies that have been depleted from our daily activities. There are several factors that influence our sleeping patterns, the main ones appear to be physical size, muscle mass, brain size and level of physical fitness. Current research indicates that people with very high levels of physical activity or intellectual activity need higher levels of sleep to allow for full recovery. Athletes completing high levels of physical activity need up to 9-10 hours sleep each night. Generally 7-9 hours is recommended for most adults.

Lack of sleep has been shown to have several negative effects on health, safety, productivity and well-being. However, the major implication for a lack of sleep is that your body is not given enough time to recover and thus reduces your capacity to complete forms of physical activity.

What are the Five Stages of Sleep?

When we sleep, it is generally divided into 5 stages. These stages are divided into REM and Non-REM Stages. Non-REM stages have our 'lighter' sleep stages and comprise of Stage 1 and 2. Our 'deeper' stages are in Stage 3 and 4 of our Non-REM sleep. This 'deeper' stage of sleep is responsible for our recovery and boosting our immune function. Stage 4 is generally where our dreaming occurs. Stage 5 is our REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Here our eyes move rapidly and our breathing becomes irregular. REM sleep is important for improving memory and brain function. Every 90 - 100 minutes we pass through all of the 5 stages. Each stage is important and if we miss or have reduced time in 1 stage it will then effect the next stage.

What affects our ability to get good quality sleep?

Alcohol is a major factor that reduces our sleep quality. Alcohol reduces our 'deeper' sleep stages and should be avoided 3-5 hours before sleeping.

Caffeine is another major factor that reduces our sleep quality. It has an effect on our central nervous system and reduces our feeling of drowsiness. Caffeine suppress our REM sleep and should be avoided 6-7 hours before sleep.

Medications are another factor worth noting. Certain types may cause insomnia as a side-effect. It can be worthwhile checking with your doctor to see if your medications may be affecting your sleep if you're having issues.

Tips to getting good quality sleep

1 - Create a Pattern - Be consistent with when you go to bed and when you wake up. A pattern can help to create consistency but also help with the quality.

2 - Create a dark and noise free room - Sleeping with sound or light can be disruptive. A darker room may also potentially increase your sleep hormones.

3 - Complete a relaxing activity before bed - Doing something that is strenuous may reduce your ability to fall asleep. Try to find something to wind down and relax with before bed. It can help you to fall asleep quicker.

4 - Try to get as many hours before midnight as possible

Sleep is an easy factor in our recovery that we can control. Many people neglect it as they don't understand how and why it is important!

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