Earlier this week we marked National Fitness Day, where we usually read about how to keep fit or try a new fitness trend, but what is often forgotten about is the recovery part of exercising! Sleep, recovery, and even napping are now seen as one of the main pillars of our health and are crucial to progressing in our fitness goals.

Guidelines suggest 7-9 hours of sleep per night as the recommended dose for health, wellbeing, and to reduce mortality and morbidity. A chronic lack of sleep can lead to problems such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, respiratory infections, depression, and anxiety. Not to mention the symptoms we perhaps notice on a more regular basis such as general fatigue, lack of concentration and energy, and reduced motivation.

If you are exercising and stressing your body further, recovery should be even more or a priority to ensure your body can cope with the demands, and get the recovery it needs for the next session.

gluteal stretch

Optimise your recovery
  1. Active recovery. This could be going for a walk to loosen off, stretching all the main muscle groups to reduce tightness and muscle soreness, or even a short yoga class. Foam rolling could be of benefit for particularly tight sport.
  2. Hydration. Any form of exercise will deplete your hydration levels. Bearing in mind that many people do not even get the minimum requirement per day of approx. 8 glasses of water, so be sure to replace any stores used on top of this.
  3. Re-fuel with good nutrition. Make sure you are replacing the energy stores that you have used up by refuelling properly after exercise, as well as prior to in preparation. Adequate nutrition is key to recovery and performance.
  4. Relaxation. Relaxation is key to balancing the body after periods of stress. Whilst exercise may feel relaxing to some, it Is still a stimulant and a stressor. Relax with some quiet time, meditation, yoga, or reading a book. Anything that calms your mind and has minimal body movements too. This does not have to be immediately after, but at some stage afterwards (preferably on the same day)  to allow recovery to occur.
  5. Reflection. Reflect back on how your session was, and how good your recovery was so that you may make any changes next time. This could involve assessing your preparation beforehand for nutrition, hydration, warming up, and mindset. And the same afterwards. Alter your plan ahead of the next session and eventually you will have nailed the perfect exercise/recovery routine!
  6. Sleep! Please see the rest of this blog!
Sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene is simply adopting a good sleep routine and strategy to ensure you get high quality, and an adequate quantity of sleep every day.

  1. Have a regular bedtime, and wake time. 
  2. Keep technology out of the bedroom, and avoid checking your phone during the night. Both of these suppress melatonin production- the chemical that helps us feel sleepy.
  3. Avoid excessive exercise prior to bedtime. This can stimulate cortisol- our stress hormone and prevent sleep. It can also over-stimulate the mind and body and create further awakening. Research has found that exercising between 7-10pm and prior to 7am both disrupt the circadian rhythm and affect your sleep cycle.
  4. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, at all if possible, but predominantly in the 3-4 hours prior to bedtime.

Napping, also known as sleep extension, is a concept many of us will have used when we have felt tired. It may also be seen as a luxury to take a daytime nap! However, sleep extension is a sensible and beneficial way to combat sleep deprivation. Naps can be used when you know sleep will be affected eg. due to travel or work commitments, or to relieve the pressure of sleep eg. that mid afternoon slump around 3pm when you keep nodding off. Rather than fight it for the rest of the day a quick shut eye can rejuvenate you and maintain late afternoon productivity.

The most likely time to need a nap is around 3-5pm, when your body temperature is at its low point and the pressure is greater from being up since morning. However, napping this late on in the day can affect time to fall asleep later on, so naps are best utilised after lunchtime if possible.

How long to nap for?

10-20 mins/short nap: Boost energy and alertness. Awaken easily and feel refreshed.

45-60mins/mid length nap: May cause grogginess upon waking for up to 30min after due to waking in the middle of a sleep cycle.

<90mins/long nap: Allows you to sleep through a full sleep cycle and is beneficial for emotional and procedural (technique) memory. Awaken easily.