Recovery, and in turn, progress in the gym, is for the most part dependent upon three things: one, the proper design and execution of the training program; two, adequate nutrition, covering all the macronutrient and micronutrient bases and taking advantage of nutrient timing techonology; three, adequate rest, and specifically adequate sleep.
While all are important, and while other factors do play a part, it's my opinion that sleep is the most overlooked component of this training scheme. In beginners, all three components are found lacking; in intermediate trainees, two of the three usually need work. In advanced trainees, you will generally find one of the three needing attention, and most often it is the latter: rest and sleep.
Take college athletics, for example. Most programs offer a one to five coach/player ratio and mandatory practices, so training is covered. And with more and more universities offering a dining facility specially designed to cater to college athletes and with free supplements readily available, nutrition is getting more attention. While perhaps not optimal, at the elite levels training and nutrition are generally adequate.
So, that leaves one last area. And in a world of classes, practices, team meetings, study halls, weight training sessions, etc., what's the first thing to get sacrificed? That's right, sleep.
But of course, you're getting enough sleep, aren't you? Well, let's find out.
Ask Yourself The Following Questions:
Do I need an alarm clock to wake up on time?
Do my eyelids feel heavy during afternoon classes or meetings?
Do I use caffeine as a "pick me up"?
Do I sleep extra hours on the weekend?
Do I fall asleep the minute my head hits the pillow?
If you answered, "yes" to any of the above questions, you probably need to improve the quality and/or quantity of your sleep.
| Still not convinced? Then do me a favor. Next time you're in your favorite bookstore, look to see how many books are written on the subjects of training and nutrition. A bunch.
In fact, there are entire shelves dedicated to the topics. Now, look to see how many books are written on the subject of sleep.
One, maybe two, but they usually focus on insomnia. As a result, my goal with this article is to inform and help educate you on how to improve the quality of sleep your currently getting.
Statistics tell us we will spend over one-third of our lives sleeping. In addition, statistics have shown a lack of sleep to be a contributing factor to work-related accidents, traffic accidents, and a decrease in overall productivity. So stop yawning and keep reading…
Why We Need Quality Sleep
Growth & Restoration:
- The secretion of growth hormone reaches its peak in deep sleep.
- Blood supply to the muscles increases.
- Metabolic activity is at its lowest, which is optimal for tissue repair.
Improves Immune Function:
- Sleep deprivation makes you more acceptable to colds and infections. (have you ever noticed that you always seem to get sick around finals, when you are probably sleeping less?)
Memory Storage & Retention:
- It is during REM sleep that the growth phase of specialized neural connections to physically memories takes place in the brain.
- If your sleep is disturbed, than you are less likely to preserve newly obtained knowledge in your long-term memory.
This is the initial stage of sleep, which consists of drowsiness, muscle relaxation, and shallow respiration. This stage can last from 10 seconds to ten minutes.
This is the stage where your heart rate slows and your body temperature decreases. It is a period of light sleep that usually lasts ten to twenty minutes. In this second stage, your body prepares to enter into deep sleep.
Stages 3 & 4:
These two stages are deep sleep stages, with stage 4 being more intense than stage 3. In addition, these stages are known as "slow-wave sleep".
REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement, which is a phase of sleep when dreaming occurs. In this stage, the brain becomes more active and the heart rate increases. In addition, this phase of sleep can be divided into four subcategories: Period 1, usually lasts ten minutes; Periods 2-4, can last from ninety minutes to two hours.
Creating An Optimal Sleeping Atmosphere
You want to create an environment that is void of light. Hall lights, door lights, night-lights and any other sources of ambient light can be detrimental to achieving sleep stages 3 and 4. In addition, you don't want natural light interfering or awakening you from deep sleep prior to when your body will naturally wake. The solution? Use eyeshades, hang dark curtains, or completely blacken out your windows using tin foil (I used this one when I was in the Marine Corps working shift-work).
Ideally, you want your bedroom to be perfectly silent (this includes the ticking of your alarm clock). But if you're one of those people who finds silence to be "too quiet," the low humming of a fan or some soft classical music playing in the background might do the trick.
So what if I have a noisy roommate or neighbor? Well, here are some options: one, establish periods of "quiet hours"; two, buy them a set of headphones; three, use earplugs; four, look for a new roommate or neighbors; five, take a bat to their stereo and TV (just kidding about five). Seriously, first try to find a roommate who prioritizes sleep, buy them a set of headphones, establish sleeping hours, and get some earplugs.
Here's another tip: At night, turn down the ringer on your phone/cell phone or turn the phone complete off. You don't want some late night caller disrupting your dreams.
Before I did this research, I assumed you should keep your room temp around 72 degrees. I was wrong! Researches have concluded that a temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal for inducing and promoting deep sleep. So turn down those thermostats and break out those down comforters.
Now, this one can be a little more difficult to control, especially if you live in the southern states or along the coastal regions. With that said, it is recommended to shoot for a 60-70% humidity level within your bedroom. Now, for those of us who live in drier climates, you might want to consider using a humidifier or periodically boiling water to add moisture to the air.
The bottom line here is comfort! But, a good pillow should also provide support, alignment, and fit the unique contours of your head, neck, and sleeping position(s). It is recommended that you choose a natural-fill pillow, such as a down or feather pillow. By choosing this type of pillow, it will allow you to adjust the pillow to eliminate pressure points and match the shape of your head and face.
Again, look for comfort first, but also consider the age of the mattress. If your mattress dates back to when President Reagan was in office or it hasn't been flipped since you first bought it, you might want to consider making an upgrade. So how do you pick a mattress? The same way you would pick a car. First, take the mattress for a test drive. Try it out. Lie down on it; toss and turn; check for softness or firmness, whichever you prefer. Find one that matches your needs and go with it. Spend as much as you can afford.
Choose sheets with a relaxing color scheme, such as green, blue or earth tones. When it comes to fabrics, consider it an investment and purchase linen sheets. Yes, they are more expensive, but a good pair of linen sheets can last you up to twenty years. For those of you not willing to spend the money on linen sheets, cotton is the next best alternative.
Lastly, ensure your sheets are clean. Now, this may seem a bit simplistic, but I assure you, that you will sleep better on clean sheets (this may mean washing your sheets every three days or rotating them out with a fresh pair). Try it, and see if you don't feel a difference.
We all have favorite lounge-around clothes: that robe you stole from the Palms Hotel; that old pair of sweats with no elasticity in the waistband; your old high school football T-shirt, the one you never washed during the whole two weeks of two-a-days. Why do we cling to those old, sometimes disgusting items? Because they make us feel comfortable. And that's exactly what you should be looking for when selecting clothes to wear to bed.
Select clothes that are comfortable, loose fitting, soft, and breathable. But for God's sake, wash them every now and again.
This may seem pretty straight forward, but shouldn't go overlooked. Ensure you have fresh batteries in your smoke alarm and that your doors and windows are securely locked prior to hitting the sack.
You should try to eliminate the use of alarm clocks. However, if your one of those people who can't seem to wake up on time without one, follow these guidelines:
- Place the clock where it can't be seen, thereby eliminating the urge to wake up periodically to check to see what time it is.
- Place it far enough away from you that you have to physically get out of bed to turn it off. This will increase the probability that you will actually get up and decrease the likelihood of you turning off the alarm and going back to sleep or hitting the snooze button.
- If you must have an analog clock, select one that does not tick too loudly. You don't want the ticking of your clock keeping you awake.
- If the clock is digital, hide the illumination, so the glow does not disturb your sleep.
That's it for this installment. So far I've given you enough to make significant improvements in the quality of your rest. Put them to use right away, and check back next week for Part II, where I'll cover the four elements of quality sleep, and give a list of tips and supplements that you may want to employ to get more quality rest.
About The Author
Greg D. Hovey is currently finishing his undergraduate degrees in Exercise Science and Business Management and working as a student assistant strength and conditioning coach with the Texas Tech Red Raider Men's Basketball Program and Texas Tech Sports Nutrition Department. Greg is also certified as a strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. You can contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.