The Cheapest and Most Important Recovery Tool

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! You feverishly reach for your alarm to silence it on this 5:30 AM start to your day. Before you can head out the door at 6:30, you run through your list of hectic morning rituals: the dog needs taken out, you need to shower, shave, make breakfast, and iron your dress shirt for a work meeting today. Phew! You made it out the door at 6:33. You’re still okay! Next thing you know, you’re sitting bumper to bumper on the highway because of an accident. That’s when you remember that you need to finish that report sitting on your desk before your 8:00 meeting! You make it through your work day and head to the gym for a 4:00 workout. The workout calls for heavy squats followed by long intervals on the rower. For whatever reason, the weights just aren’t moving today and you feel especially exhausted on the rower. After you cook dinner, it’s time to clean the house and fix your leaking sink because you’re in the process of moving and a potential buyer is looking at the house tomorrow. It’s now 11:00 and you unwind in bed by checking social media and checking your email. By 12:00, you’re ready to get your 5.5 hours of sleep and start all over again tomorrow.

Everybody wants to know the best kept secret when it comes to workout recovery. You’ll hear folks swear that their post-workout supplement, cryotherapy session, or ROMWOD (stretching) routine is going to take them to the next level. I believe that All of these tools have a place, but there is a recovery tool out there that takes the cake and guess what; it’s absolutely free. The only things needed for this highly effective recovery strategy are time and a comfortable bed. Yes, we’re talking about sleep, and you’ve been neglecting it for too long.

As Dr. Kirk Parsley puts it, we live in a culture where sleeping less is seen as heroic. So let’s talk about what happens to us when we go into sleep debt instead of getting the recommended 7.5 to 8 hours per night. Parsley has lectured that after one night of reduced sleep (6 hours of sleep), insulin sensitivity crashes, insulin levels spike, male libido decreases 30%, emotionality increases, and endurance, single rep, and anaerobic power decrease. You probably know somebody who claims to be super productive running off of 4-5 hours per night, but it’s more than likely that this person is being dishonest about sleep patterns or somehow refutes science.

Digging a little deeper, Dr. Robert Sapolsky writes in his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers that losing sleep is a stressor on the body and, as a stressor, it has some pretty serious repercussions. Stress can wreak havoc on the immune system by decreasing our body’s ability to create white blood cells and inhibiting the manufacturing of antibodies. Again, it causes blood sugar to go up and insulin levels to go down. Unfortunately for a lot of us who enjoy the occasional bro-lifting session, it also decreases growth hormone.

It turns out that not all sleep is created equal. The first half of our 8 hours sleeping is spent mostly in a deep, slow wave type pattern. During this sleep stage, the body is repairing itself (I.E. gains) and secreting GH and testosterone. The second half of the 8 hours is spent mostly in the lighter REM sleep stage. This stage of sleep benefits the emotional and cognitive side of the things. The idea here is that this is when you ingrain and develop the so-called “muscle memory”. So if you’re trying to learn how to perform a snatch with great technique, play a new instrument, or nail the final exam you have the next day, then you better make sure you’re getting your REM sleep. 

Tips for taking back your sleep:

1.       Figure out what is preventing you from getting your 7.5 to 8 hours, and re-assess if substituting for more sleep wouldn’t make you more productive…it will.

2.       Sleep in a cool, dark room.

3.       No electronics 1 hour before bed (half hour at the very minimum)

4.     Sleep on your back. If sleeping on your side, at least make sure that your head is propped up so that it is level. Do not sleep on your stomach.