Written by Giovanni Roselli
Many of us plan our summer vacations for months in hopes of a little relaxation. Yet, everyday rest and recovery are the least planned and underutilized ways to enhance performance and quality of life. Let’s understand how sleep and recovery are important to our overall health:
REST AND RECOVERY
Rest is simply a combination of sleep and time spent not active. How you sleep and spend this time is critical. Recovery, however, refers to techniques and actions taken to maximize your body’s repair. These include hydration, nutrition, posture, heat, ice, stretching and foam-rolling.
Muscles recover the quickest because they receive direct blood flow. Tendons, ligaments and bones receive indirect blood flow and therefore can take longer to recover and are more susceptible to injury. Think about how many people we know — they may even be ourselves — who have torn tendons and ligaments, a rotator cuff in the shoulder or a meniscus in the knee.
SYMPATHETIC VS. PARASYMPATHETIC
Sympathetic activities — often referred to as “fight or flight” — and parasympathetic activities — often referred to as “rest and digest” — are the two divisions of the autonomic nervous system.
Depression, craving carbohydates, a reduced metabolism, poor blood sugar management and difficulty sleeping are just a few consequences when sympathetic activities dominate our lives.
Relaxing and energizing activities are parasympathetic in nature. Aromatherapy, meditation, Pilates, yoga and tai chi help to lower stress, improve oxygenation and stimulate recovery. They’ve been around for thousands of years because they work. Spa treatments, baths and sauna time can facilitate lymph circulation and recovery.
WORK IT OUT, THEN REST
Exercise will only create results if we recover and rest enough between workouts. When someone doesn’t recover adequately, performance and health suffer. If we looked at their insides, we might see high levels of inflammation and/or connective tissues that aren’t healing. We might see that their happy neurotransmitters are going down and their catabolic hormones, such as cortisol, are going up.
You often hear the term “overtraining,” but in reality what could very well be happening is “under-recovering.” Signs you are under-recovering could include sore muscles, depression, anxiety, poor sleep, too much sleep, loss of appetite, insatiable appetite, overall pain and a poor immune response to illness.
“People just don’t realize how important sleep is, and what the health consequences are of not getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis,” says Dr. Carl Hunt, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “Sleep is just as important for overall health as diet and exercise.”
A 2005 study, with a nationally representative sample of about 10,000 adults, found that people between the ages of 32 and 49 who sleep fewer than seven hours each night and/or stay awake past midnight are significantly more likely to be obese. Studies also suggest that people who sleep fewer than six hours per night gain almost twice as much weight over a six-year period as people who sleep seven to eight hours per night.
In another study, healthy men in their 20s were only allowed four hours of sleep for six straight nights. At the end of this, the young men had the insulin sensitivity of a 70-year-old prediabetic.
With lack of sleep, daily life can suffer as well, with mood, cognition and memory problems taking their toll. Going 24 hours without sleep is similar to performing with a blood alcohol level of 0.10 percent. Good luck navigating your day while “intoxicated” from minimal sleep. In comparison, quality sleep improves memory formation and recall.
TAKE THE TIME
Don’t neglect your time-out. Making the time to recover and repair will ensure your physical performance, mental alertness and overall quality of life are the best they can be.
Reach Giovanni on twitter @GiovanniRoselli and his website, GiovanniRoselli.com.