Sleep: The Greatest Recovery Tool

Jun 18, 2021

Sleep is your number one recovery tool. The harder you can train without exceeding your capacity for recovery, the faster you can make progress.
Sleep is the most anabolic state for your body. A lack of sleep will limit your strength and muscle mass gains. It will also increase the chances of you losing muscle mass when cutting and gaining fat while bulking.
To maximize recovery and build more lean muscle, you must make sleep a priority.
Better sleep will also help you to:
  • Lose fat
  • Gain strength
  • Manage hunger
  • Fight off colds and flu.
  • Boost memory
  • Improve mental function
  • Slow aging
Long story short, it will make you a fitter, happier, and more productive person.
Let’s be honest; you probably already know this. Yet, I bet you don’t give sleep the credit it deserves when it comes to your lifestyle choices. Most of us realize we should sleep more. We know sleep is important. Yet, we do not prioritize it.
I’m pretty confident you make this mistake because I do too. I have been guilty of it on many occasions in the past. Staying up late to watch the next episode of a TV show or scrolling aimlessly through Instagram is all too easily done. Whenever I do this, I always regret it the next day.
Lack of sleep can sneak up on you. You probably don’t realize you are sleep-deprived. The occasional late night has little impact. The problem is when those late nights become normal.
Staying up late on the laptop to meet work deadlines or relaxing in front of a good show both eat into your sleep and have a big impact on the quality of your recovery. In time, you’ll probably feel like a zombie without a hit of caffeine in the morning, your gym performance will start to plateau, and you’ll make worse dietary choices. These all happen gradually.
They sneak up on you. I have seen this time and again with clients that try to burn the candle at both ends. They fool themselves that they are getting away with it because the drop-off in performance is gradual. Be warned, lack of sleep adds up and can stop your progress dead in its tracks if left unresolved.
My experience with lack of sleep was less gradual and more like blunt force trauma. I had always slept well and made it a priority. Then I had kids. After our son was born, it was 18 months before I felt normal in the gym again. I vividly remember the session after my first full eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. I felt like Superman.
The sad thing is, I wasn’t Superman.
I wasn’t even close. I was just regular Josh after a good night’s sleep. My perception of what normal was had been warped so much by 18 months of sleep deprivation that feeling normal now felt amazing.
You might have slept-walked into the same situation without realizing it. Make sleep a priority for a month, and I’m confident you’ll look, feel, and perform better.
The research on sleep deprivation is alarming. Studies show that 11 days in a row with less than six hours of sleep, your cognitive ability will be about the same as if you had stayed awake for 24 hours straight.
At 22 days of less than six hours of sleep per night, your brain function is at the same level as someone who has stayed up for 48 hours straight.? To put things in perspective, that means your reactions are probably worse than someone who is over the legal limit for alcohol.
Are You More Zombie Than Human?
Do a sleep survey on yourself and assess whether you are more of a zombie than a human.
As a guide, you should aim for this when it comes to sleep:
  • Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
  • Go to bed at the same time every night.
  • Wake up at the same time each morning.
  • Wake up without an alarm clock.
  • Sleep the whole night through–multiple bathroom trips are a sure sign of low sleep quality (or drinking way too much just before bed).
  • Waking up in almost the same position you fell asleep in (not tossing and turning all night) is a good sign.
  • You should wake up refreshed.
How does your sleep stack up against that list? I’m guessing you don’t tick off all those points. In my experience, most people can’t even tick off a couple of them. Your goal is to work towards being able to check off each one of those bullet points.
Here are some practical tips to help you sleep better and for longer.
  • Set yourself up for success: Get a comfortable bed, mattress, and pillow. Bed quality can affect sleep. It can also reduce back and shoulder pain. Given you will be spending nearly a third of your life in bed, it makes sense to invest in a good one.
  • Establish a routine: Go to bed at roughly the same time and get up at the same time every day. Weekends count too. Being consistent with sleep and waking times has been found to improve long-term sleep quality.
  • Include relaxation: Relaxation techniques before bed has been found to improve sleep quality. Read a book, listen to a chill-out-playlist, take a hot bath or do some deep breathing and meditation. Do whatever it takes to help you relax and unwind.
  • Cut the coffee at 4 pm: Having coffee is cool. I love the stuff, but having it later in the day can disrupt or even prevent your sleep. On average, caffeine's half-life is about five hours; however, this half-life can vary massively between individuals. If you are a slow metabolizer of caffeine, then you might have levels in your system keeping you alert and awake into the early hours if you drink it after 4 pm. In extreme cases, having it within 10 hours of bed can be disruptive for some people. So, cut yourself off at 4 pm and see if you can fall asleep easier. If you are still struggling, slide things forward to 3 pm and reassess.
  • Disconnect from the matrix: The blue light emitted by the screens on your devices can disrupt your sleep. The body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm is influenced mainly by daylight hours. Artificial light like streetlights and lightbulbs already disrupt it but staring at screens magnifies the issue. Your internal body clock is served by the ocular nerve, which is directly affected by blue light. The same light waves your phone, TV, laptop, and tablet give off. To improve sleep, I suggest you disconnect from screens like this for at least 60 minutes before bedtime.
  • Get natural sunlight exposure during the day: At these times, the body needs light. Studies found that two hours of bright light exposure during the day increases the amount of sleep by two hours and improves sleep quality by 80%.
  • Sleep in the Batcave: Make your bedroom pitch-black, quiet, and cool to maximize the quality of your sleep. Remove all electrical devices.
  • Room temperature: Set thermostats at about 20 C or 70 F. Room temperature has been found to affect sleep quality more than external noise.
  • Stay off the booze: Just a couple of drinks have been shown to reduce your sleep hormones. Alcohol alters melatonin production and decreases Human Growth Hormone (HGH) levels. Melatonin is a key sleep hormone that tells your brain when it’s time to unwind, relax and fall asleep. HGH helps regulate your body clock, is anti-aging, and vital to recovery.
There you have it, your comprehensive guide to better sleep. You have no excuse now. You know sleep is crucial. You can also rank your sleep against the standards listed above. If you come up short, you have nine tips to help improve your sleep.
If you do improve your sleep, then everything else will improve too. Aim to enhance your sleep before you worry about investing in any other recovery modalities.
None of them can hold a candle to sleep, and sleep is free.