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Recover Better by Sleeping Better

by Fitness, Health

We are all familiar with the fact that exercise breaks down muscle, and when the body recovers from this break down it does so in an improved fashion. This adaptation is how we improve strength or endurance through exercise. We are also all familiar with coaches or trainers emphasizing this “recovery,” and harping on us to do it well. But what does recovery entail? Generally speaking, the pillars of recovery are: hydration and nutrient timing, sleep, stress management, and active recovery. Today we will discuss why sleep is important to recovery, as well as how to improve your sleep quality (and overall health!).

why focus on sleep?

Arguably, sleep is the true foundation of recovery. This is when the cellular magic happens. Muscle cells regenerate, the nervous system adapts and resets, and the brain stores information learned. At this point, not only are our muscles getting stronger, but movement patterns we performed or improved upon during our workout are strengthened and stored. The recommended six to eight hours of sleep per night should be the goal. We have to spend enough time resting in order for our mind and body to fully recover and reset.  If you’re struggling to hit that target, here are some tips to help you sleep better and rest more.

say no to screens

First, and maybe the hardest: no screens an hour before bed. This means cell phones, laptops, and television. There is a plethora of research pointing to the fact that these screens inhibit our body’s ability to create a sleepy state and limit our natural production of melatonin (the chemical that puts us to sleep!) Now, some of you may say you need T.V. before bed in order to relax and fall asleep. But this is a habit, and habits can be changed.

create a new routine

If you have a habit that’s not ideal, hear this. Habits can be replaced with better habits. The routine of watching t.v. before bed helps many of us get to sleep because it is a routine. It’s possible to create a healthier, alternative routine that may be just as effective. To start, have a consistent bedtime. Laying down at the same time each night helps our body maintain a natural circadian rhythm, which is paramount to quality sleep.

What else can we include in our pre-sleep routine? Maybe it’s a few of your preferred yoga poses, breathing or mindfulness exercises, reading a book, or even something as benign as twenty minutes spent tidying up or doing your laundry. Sound boring? Hey, that boredom, minus the television, may just have your body pumping more melatonin to get you sleeping better! Once this pre-sleep routine, immediately followed by getting into bed, becomes a pattern, our brains will adjust and begin to associate it with sleep preparation. Boom. We have done our job in creating a new, healthier habit.

there still may be nights where sleep is hard

Sometimes our best plans still don’t result in the outcome we want. We’ll hop into bed, all tucked in and ready to sleep, but our minds get up and begin running marathons instead. Today’s events and tomorrow’s concerns all come rushing to the forefront, and we may toss and turn for thirty minutes struggling to fall asleep. If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Although this struggle seems like something we cannot help, I would argue there is something we can do about it.

ALARMS: they’re not just for waking up

Set yourself an alarm toward the end of your day, and label or name it with something like ‘closing thoughts,’ or ‘close up shop.’ When this alarm goes off it is signaling your final appointment of the day. Here you will intentionally recap the day, going over its’ key points or concerns.

 What are the takeaways from the day? Did something overly stressful happen that you need to put some closing thoughts to? What about tomorrow? Will there be any pressing work issues you have to take care of? Here, you can use the notepad in your phone to make and prioritize a small list: “what I need to do Friday, or Monday, or (tomorrow).” 

This exercise only takes about ten or fifteen minutes, and it effectively does what your brain is trying to do when it starts that marathon mentioned previously. By reviewing our day earlier, we are allowing our brain to begin the organizing and compiling process it undergoes during sleep. This prevents the work day recap from occurring as intensely when you go to bed. Plus, it means you can turn off work for the day and get some quality time with family, your spouse, or even yourself.

sleep is a measure of overall health

We all want to improve our health, fitness, and longevity. Let’s not forget to prioritize this important component of all three: sleep. You will be surprised how much improving our sleep habits can increase our energy and vitality for life! Always move forward, friends!

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 *The idea of using phone alarms to be intentional and more productive is credited to Eric Partaker, a successful CEO who wrote the book on it, literally, titled “The 3 Alarms.” It’s a great resource to check out if you are looking to use systems to transform your health and overall lifestyle habits.

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