You’re having a terrible nightmare where, every time you train, the ‘strength gains’ literally melt off you. You awake in a pool of sweat and struggle to get back to sleep through the stress of it all. It is this moment where the ‘gains’ actually start to diminish.

We become so concerned with training hard and moving toward our goals, whether they are performance, health or physique based, that at times we neglect the other side – Sleep and recovery.
Most will know that sleep is important, but how important?

  • Sleep is a vital time where neurological function and soft tissue, such as muscle; tendon and bone, can adapt from training
  • Sufficient sleep is essential for cognitive function, motor learning, and memory consolidation – all important factors in performance

In combination with this, the negative impacts from a lack of sleep are abundant;

  • Higher incidences of injury in teenage athletes
  • Reduced immune system function due to disrupted circadian rhythm
  • Impaired exercise performance capacity (especially aerobic)
  • Contributes to heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, stress, anxiety, depression and poor level of concentration
  • Sensitisation of tissue, despite there being no damage, which figuratively, turns the volume switch up on pain

How do you know if you’re getting enough sleep? Try these three easy questions;

  1. Do you feel rested in the morning?
  2. Do you always need an alarm clock?
  3. Do you have enough energy throughout the day?

The answer to these should dictate quite clearly if you’re getting enough quality sleep.
If you find yourself in the ‘poor sleep’ category, how do you fix it? Firstly, the true cause of poor sleep must be sought.

  • Talk to your GP: They can often identify health issues relating to poor sleep or refer onwards to others for more tailored treatment
  • Going to bed at the same time: This establishes a routine and can be applied to waking up also
  • Limiting the use of electronic devices shortly before bedtime, as these can suppress the secretion of melatonin, which promotes sleep
  • Protein intake before bed can improve soft tissue restoration and thus recovery
  • Exercise: It has been consistently shown to help both sleep patterns and pain
  • Take care of emotional/mental health: Things such as stress, depression or anxiety, increase the likelihood of sleep problems. Learning individual strategies to cope with emotional stress is very important (i.e. talking to somebody, exercising, reading, music, dancing, meditation, spending time with family and friends)

By no means am I suggesting not training hard over the short and long term. If you’ve read anything written by me, you’ll know I have a significant researcher/man-crush on Tim Gabbett and subsequently his catch-cry “train harder AND smarter”. A considerable part of training smarter is promoting adequate recovery strategies.

This is all the more important during heavy training cycles. Heavy training increases the stress on the body, which elevates cortisol levels. This can create a situation of reduced immune function. Sound familiar? It’s the same situation when you don’t have sufficient sleep, now compounded! This leaves you more likely to succumb to illness and lose valuable time training.
In short, poor sleep and inadequate recovery has the capacity to reduce long term adaptation which is arguably THE key principle of strength and conditioning. By not allowing yourself adequate recovery the body is unprepared for the next round of training, meaning you are compounding fatigue and limiting performance.

In summary… stop reading this and get some sleep if you want to maintain those sweet, sweet ‘gainz’!

(Image Credit: YLMSportScience)

Please see this directory page for further information on stress: