Quite simply, sleep is the most important and critical piece of recovery. Along with fueling, sleep is the factor in performance that most endurance athletes ignore. Your body needs high-quality sleep and plenty of it. After all, sleep is when the majority of recovery occurs.
I won’t get into the minutiae of sleep patterns and sleep science; let me just point out that the optimal situation is to consistently get eight or more hours of sleep per night. Obviously, this is challenging for many; if it is not possible, then aim for at least seven hours per night on a regular basis.
If you value recovery as an integrated part of training, and if you recognize sleep as the most critical part of recovery, then you cannot continually or chronically minimize sleep in order to fit in more training. You may need to get up earlier than you’d like in order to allow time for high-quality training sessions, but cutting back on sleep (allowing just three to five hours per night) so that you can cram everything in is not a sustainable practice. If you consistently minimize sleep, you simply will not get the desired returns on your training over the long term. You might eke out gains in short bursts, but long-term negative effects will occur. In summary, sleep is the number-one thing you can do for recovery.
If you suffer from lack of sleep, try to optimize your sleep two or three times a week with an additional one to two hours, or sleep for up to eight to nine uninterrupted hours. Begin to notice how the additional sleep results in an increase in energy and productivity on those days. Maximize the benefits you can get from the most restorative phase of life.
If you are fatigued during the day but lie alert in bed at night, it is a red flag for an accumulation of too much stress and too little rejuvenation.
Keep a sleep log for a week to track your caffeine intake, hours of sleep per night, quality of those hours, naps, alcohol, and exercise. After you have completed the sleep log, take a look at the patterns you see. Make the appropriate changes from there to optimize your recovery!
If you love this post, there’s more where that came from! Check out The Well-Built Triathlete: Turning Potential Into Performance by the head coach and founder of Purplepatch Fitness, Matt Dixon. Matt is also coach to professional triathlete and Habit Project founder Sarah Piampiano.