Sleep: The Ultimate Recovery Tool for High Performance

by Jenn George, Performance Coach, BA, CPT, CGFI

One of the critical physical dimension components of the Corporate Athlete® Course is the importance of recovery and is indeed a big area of need for many individuals. The ultimate form of recovery is sleep. When we sleep, we cycle through four stages critical for restoration and recovery.

The first stage of sleep is considered “light sleep”, when you drift in and out and can be woken easily. Stage 2 is where eye movement stops and brain waves become slower. Stage 3 is known as “deep sleep” or “delta sleep” when the brain produces delta waves almost exclusively and it is difficult to wake someone in this stage. Eye movement and muscle activity cease.1 During non-REM sleep, the body repairs itself. Human growth hormone is released during stage 3 and helps repair damage from resistance training and other minor trauma.2

During REM sleep brain waves increase to similar levels experienced when a person is awake. Heart rate and blood pressure also rise.3 Memory and learning is consolidated during sleep. Need to retain important information learned during the day? REM sleep is required for the brain to optimally process information.4

Sleep stages progress cyclically from stage 1 through REM then the cycle repeats again with stage one. A complete sleep cycle takes an average of 90 to 110 minutes and most people go through 3-5 cycles per night.5 This equates to the recommended range of 7-8 hours of sleep per night.6 When asked, only a small percentage of Corporate Athletes have established bedtime routines AND wake up refreshed.7

Sleep deprivation not only wreaks havoc on our need for recovery and restoration, but also on our energy and ability to perform. Research shows being sleep deprived is associated with increased chances for developing heart disease, anxiety, depression and mood disorders, obesity, and these conditions can increase a person’s risk of dying.8 It’s scary to think that a lack of sleep can take days, weeks, and even years off a person’s life. What about the danger of getting behind the wheel while sleep deprived? Driving while sleep deprived is like driving while under the influence.9 According to a sleep poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 60% of adult drivers have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy and more than a third (36%) have fallen asleep at the wheel. Sleep deprivation increases the risk of a sleep-related crash; the less people sleep, the greater the risk.10

How can you improve your quality and quantity of sleep? The first step is to understand what your obstacles are….what is standing in your way from getting and staying asleep? What is your routine around going to bed? Are you one who brings your laptop, iPad, or phone with you to bed? As busy Corporate Athletes, each night may be different.

Here are a few tips for going and staying asleep:11

  • The best first step in getting to sleep is setting a consistent routine. If you do the same thing every night before bed (read a book, breathe deeply, meditate, stretch, etc.) your body starts to recognize those behaviors as a segue to sleep.
  • Eliminate distractions/create boundaries: Turn off the TV, laptop, iPad, or your phone. Be technology free! The blue light from electronics acts as a stimulus to the brain, hindering your ability to go to sleep. Turn the lights off and block out noise with a sound machine or ceiling fan.
  • Exercise regularly and vigorously (just not right before bedtime): Exercise creates the need for recovery. During non-REM stages of sleep, your body repairs itself from the “damage” of exercise. Deep sleep must occur for this repair to happen.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol: Caffeine is a stimulant that can hinder your ability to go to sleep. Avoid caffeinated beverages after 2pm. Alcohol is a depressant and can be helpful in going to sleep, but once the alcohol wears off, it can disrupt our ability to go through the sleep cycles.
  • Keep your room cool and dark: An ideal room temperature is one that is kept cool. Use black out curtains or close your blinds to keep light out.
  • Keep a pen and paper by your bed. Journal before going to bed (to “park” those thoughts or “to do” items for the next day). Write about your day’s accomplishments to end the day on a good note. If you awake in the middle of the night trying to solve that pesky work issue, journal your thoughts so you can give yourself permission to go back to sleep and pick it up in the morning.

Technology offers us some cool apps for going to sleep, staying asleep, and tracking your sleep. Many of these apps are available for free on both iTunes and Android.12

  • Rain Sounds: FREE on iTunes and Android - sound machine to drown out noise
  • Sleep Cycle: $.99 on iTunes - sleep tracker and alarm (wakes you during light sleep)
  • Sleep as Android: FREE on Android - sleep tracker providing graphs of your sleep cycles
  • Sleep Bot: FREE on iTunes - sleep tracker providing useful information about your sleep cycles
  • Deep Sleep with Andrew Johnson: $2.99 - guided meditation to help you go to sleep
  • Relax and Sleep by Glenn Harold: FREE - self-hypnosis for sleep
  • Relax Melodies: FREE - music and nature sounds to enhance relaxation

While sleep may be the first thing to go when you are wrangling with a crazy schedule, honor this precious time for restoration and recovery as a tool for additional energy and better performance.

References:

1 Sleepdex, Resources for Better Sleep, Stages of Sleep, accessed Jan 15,2015 http://www.sleepdex.org/stages.htm

2 Sleepdex, Sleep and Growth Hormone, accessed Jan 15, 2015 http://www.sleepdex.org/athletic.htm and National Sleep Foundation, What Happens When You Sleep?, accessed Jan 15, 2015 http://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/what-happens-when-you-sleep

3 Sleepdex, Resources for Better Sleep, Stages of Sleep, accessed Jan 15,2015 http://www.sleepdex.org/stages.htm

4 Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Healthy Sleep, Sleep, Learning and Memory, accessed Jan 15, 2015 http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory

5 Sleepdex, Resources for Better Sleep, Stages of Sleep, accessed Jan 15,2015 http://www.sleepdex.org/stages.htm

6 National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, How Much Sleep is Enough?, accessed Jan 15, 2015 http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/howmuch

7 Corporate Athlete Course 360 Profile - five self-reported questions on the 360 assessment on sleep and recovery.

8 Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Healthy Sleep, Sleep and Disease Risk, accessed Jan 15, 2015 http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences/sleep-and-disease-risk

9 National Sleep Foundation, Drowsy Driving Prevention Fact Sheet PDF, accessed Jan 15, 2015 http://sleepfoundation.org/sites/default/files/3-Drowsy%20Driving%20Media%20One%20Sheet-CSG-FINAL.pdf

10 National Sleep Foundation, Drowsy Driving Facts and Stats, accessed Jan 15, 2015 http://drowsydriving.org/about/facts-and-stats/

11 Corporate Athlete Course workbook page 95

12 Some, not all, are referenced on Healthline, The Best Sleep iPhone & Android Apps of the Year, Jeri Burtchell, accessed Jan 15, 2015 http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/top-insomnia-iphone-android-apps