We’re all familiar with both the phrase, and the practice of “burning the candle at both ends”. I’m excelling at this right now, something that has gradually snowballed into somewhat of an unpleasant avalanche. My regular job has turned into 7 days a week, I’m running two other businesses, trying to keep up my workouts, healthy meal prep, making sure the foster dog is happy and improving every day, and trying to keep some semblance of a social life. I can feel myself saying “If I can just get through to this date”, and I know that I’m well on the way to being burnt out. It’s time to make a change.
Recovery doesn’t happen instantly. Just like going to the gym will not magically change your physique in a day, one decent night of sleep does not make a person well rested. We’re more readily available than ever when it comes to technology, phones, emails and apps - so planning a little downtime warrants a little bit more thought than previously.
I’ve reached out to some experts in their fields when it comes to recovery, and have rounded up their best tips and tricks to maximise sleep, muscle repair and creating the right environment for good quality downtime. Sharing is caring, so let’s plan a recovery party together.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE SLEEP?
Winston W, co-founder and Sleep Evangelist at Sleeping Duck believes that “sleeping 7-9 hours per night is essential for recovery. It’s important so that you can enter the NREM (non-rapid eye movement) stage of sleep known as slow-wave or deep sleep. This phase accounts for 40% of your total sleep time and is essential for muscle recovery and restoring the body. During this phase your blood pressure drops and your breathing becomes deeper and slower. Blood supply available to your muscles increases, delivering extra amounts of oxygen and nutrients which facilitate their healing and growth. Muscles and tissues are rejuvenated during this phase of sleep.”
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE DON’T SLEEP?
According to Sleep Specialist Olivia Arezzolo - “short term - we lose focus, become moody, irritable, are fatigued and have greater stress - including a 37% rise in stress hormone cortisol after only 1 night sleep loss.
In the longer term, we have dysfunction of our HPA axis, the brain region to dictate our reactions to stress - we become overly agitated even for minor problems. This contributes to early ageing, lowers immunity and can be a cause of infertility.”
THE RIGHT MATTRESS
“Having the right mattress is key to this. If your mattress causes you to overheat or creates general discomfort because of poor support then it will generally break your sleep routine and lower your ability to achieve the NREM stage of sleep. This will inevitably lead to poor muscle recovery.” says Winston.
What about if you’re investing in a good quality mattress for the first time?
“Sleeping Duck generally recommends a medium firmness for side sleepers and a firm for back sleepers. In terms of support, you want to make sure you’re getting the right level of support and relief for each part of your body. For side sleepers, generally something that gives relief in your shoulder is ideal, and for back sleepers, something with a little more support through the back will work well.
If your partner has different preferences to you, making sure the mattress can be set up with each side being different is also important. The only way to truly know if a mattress is going to specifically suit you is to try it properly. If it doesn’t have a 100 night trial with free returns, don’t bother. A 15 minute in-store trial will not come close to actually sleeping on the mattress for weeks at a time. You’re going to be using this product for the next 10 years so you want to make sure it’s right for you!” Winston advises.
So how do we create the right environment for sleep? For those of us who are absolutely knackered, but can’t seem to switch our minds off, we need to pay a little more attention to our surroundings and routine.
THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT
Having a clean and tidy, but also dark bedroom will help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. After the day’s events, our minds are already feel full, and clutter can overwhelm us so embracing a little minimalism and finding a place for everything so that it’s all neatly tucked away can help create a calming environment, using the bed as the focal point of the room. My BoConcept Mezzo bed lifts up to showcase under-bed storage (swipe on the image below to see), and this really helps with my decluttering.
You can also try embracing a couple of real plants in the bedroom to improve air quality, and most importantly, keep phones OUT of the bedroom (or at least on silent and facing down) so that the lights, sounds and potential notifications can’t keep you from focussing on the most important task at hand - sleep. Olivia stresses that “Taking electronics outside of the bed is key - especially your laptop. As soon as you see your laptop, you think about work, so when you are going to sleep, if you are thinking about work, you’re going to find it harder to sleep! A dark space is imperative too - it allows for maximum manufacture of sleepiness inducing hormone melatonin.” I find that when I’m jetlagged, a sleeping mask is my secret weapon - try out a silk one to create the ultimate darkness needed, coupled with comfort for a sound sleep.
For the ultimate bedtime routine Olivia recommends “Switching off from devices and work after 8pm, having a sleep tea and sleep supplement shortly after, followed by a relaxing activity like reading for 30 minutes, and finishing the eve listening to a mediation track with an eye mask on - that’s the routine i recommend to all my clients, and it’s seen them go from sleeping 3 hours to 7 in a mater of days.”
ALL ABOUT THE FEELS
When was the last time you replaced your sheets from those old ones in the cupboard? Try shopping for a new sheet set, dedicated to the season you’re going into. Soft, airy fabrics like linen and bamboo are great for those who run hot during the night. While you’re at it - I know it’s tempting to warm up the bedroom before you go to sleep (guilty 🙋🏻), but studies show we’re actually more likely to fall and stay asleep when the room is cooler, as the dropping temperatures are a hint to our natural circadium rhythms that it’s time to go to bed.
THE WHOLISTIC APPROACH
As both a personal trainer, wellness coach and sleep specialist, Olivia approaches sleep routines with the bigger picture in mind.
”Just like seeing a personal trainer when you’re struggling with your fitness, you should look at sleep no differently. Accepting ongoing fatigue, memory lapses or mental fogginess as part of normal is not the answer - nor does it lead to any change. These are signs your body is telling you something needs to be fixed - so see a professional who can fix it.
Take sunshine seriously - research has found 10-15 minutes of exposure to morning sun helps awaken you; as it prevents the production of sleepiness hormone melatonin. Getting out at lunch is important too - throughout the day the sun plays a key role in your body’s synthesis of serotonin - the happiness hormone to make us feel content, positive and relaxed. These factors interlace with sleep because:
a) if we are naturally energetic in the morning we are less reliant on caffeine and sugar which can keep us up at night,
b) the earlier we stop our bodies producing melatonin in the morning, the earlier we will start to produce it at night - so it allows us to be sleepier earlier, resulting in more restorative sleep and
c) stress is a major factor to predict sleep loss, so by optimising our serotonin levels we are protected against stress related sleep loss.”
We all know that food is the fuel to give us energy to run around, work out in the gym, and make it to that after-work function, but did you ever think that the food you eat could help your muscles recover, and even induce sleep? Lyn Green - Global Nutritionist for F45 Training gives her top tips on the best nutrition for both:
“To Enhance Sleep:
1. Quality Magnesium Powder - try a practitioner-only brand once a day, for at least 30 days and you’ll see a massive difference.
2. Go on a caffeine detox - this should go without saying, but when you’re no longer plying your body with stimulants, you will fall into a more natural rest and recovery pattern.
3. Increase tryptophan-rich foods which will produce more melatonin, known as the ‘sleep hormone’ in the body - some examples include ricotta, eggs, poultry, almonds, pumpkin seeds, yoghurt and oats.
To Enhance Muscle Recovery:
1. Consume a natural protein shake no later than 1/2 hour after your workout - this can help the body to begin quickly healing the micro-tears in the muscle, a process which makes muscles stronger over time.
2. Try adding in BCAAs (natural branch chain amino acid blend) into your diet - BCAA's trigger muscle protein synthesis and prevent the breakdown of muscles. They also play an important role in muscle and energy productivity and physical endurance during intense exercise.
3. Magnesium Powder - this is an effective smooth muscle relaxer and helps with muscle recovery.
4. Aim for .8g of Protein per kg of bodyweight daily.”
It’s important to look at recovery in a holistic part of our health and wellness process. In adapting our night time routines, food intake and equipment to help better recover, here are a few more practices that I like to incorporate to simply wind down, destress and switch off so that I can give my brain and body a break from such high cortisol levels.
Take a relaxing bath. Add in some beautiful lavender or epsom bath salts. I love Dr Teal’s Bath Salts that combine both of these.
Light some candles. A pleasant scent in the air is instantly calming, and I love to switch off my lights and burn a candle as I wind down for the night. Combining this step with the previous one will definitely have you blissed out.
Meditate. This can happen in many forms. Not everyone is great at sitting still and quietening their mind so guided meditations can help (I love the Insight Timer app), or for those of us who are a little more restless, adopting more of a “moving meditation” practice such as yoga, a stretch class, or even a gentle weights session. Slowing down your breathe consistently for 15 minutes or more will help activate your parasympathetic nervous system and reduce the “fight or flight” response.
Take a walk. Leave your phone at home, go outside and take a walk out in nature. A beach, along the coastline, through the forest or simply down to your local park. Be alone with your thoughts, breathe, and realise you can deal without looking at your emails for 30 minutes.
Cook. Choose a recipe that methodical, and one that you know well. Put on some soft music and make yourself something delicious and wholesome - the whole process will do wonders for your mindset.
I hope these tips and tricks help you relax and recover over the holiday season, leaving you fresh and ready for the new year!