Rest after exercise is vital; it’s often believed the quality of your recovery portion of your exercise routine is more important than the quality of your actual workouts.
If the balance between training stress (workouts) and recovery (rest) is inadequate, then your training, performance and competitions can really be impacted; at any point on your training journey, (not just at the final weeks of your running plans)
So, I guess, your ability to rest can make or break a race, and so many factors may affect your recovery, which can have an impactful knock-on effect:
- Muscle fatigue and muscle soreness comes with signs of inflammation; soreness, heat, swelling, pain, and limited range of movement which often adversely affect sleep.
- The disruption to sleep is associated with reduced hormone regulation, which then results in impaired muscle building adaptations, stagnating your performances.
- Overall inadequate recovery is linked to reduction of nervous system function, increasing your resting heart rate. Your body is effectively working harder even whilst doing nothing.
Did you know, Women need more sleep than men? It’s TRUE! There are so many reasons why this is the case, (all backed with scientific evidence) so ladies, we finally have a reason to hit the snooze button; and frankly it’s for our health.
Sleep is crucial. And as runners, it is crucial for our recovery as well as performance on race day. Sufficient sleep (we will get into what that is in a moment) is essential for muscle recovery in relation to hormone regulation needed for muscle healing. Therefore, sleep deprivation alters the hormonal response and basically gets in the way of recovery happening.
For sleep to have a restorative effect on the body it needs to sufficient in duration and quality; particularly for athletes as your physical and mental recovery needs are often greater – simply due to the demands placed upon them during training and races. It’s proven to have a restorative effect on your:
- Immune system
- Hormone regulation
- Nervous system recovery
- Improve memory recall and learning ability
- Speed of muscle firing ability
All of which will have a positive influence on your runs; all things we want to happen, thank you sleep!
And yes, while performing on your runs is why you’re here, reading this article but did you know there’s more reasons as to why women need more sleep than men? Here’s three more:
- To mentally recover. Jim Horne (a sleep neuroscientist) says female brains work harder than men’s, (so obviously work hard, rest hard) and as we are pro’s at multitasking, remaining flexibility towards tasks that we recruit and use more of our brains than those of our male companions (that would explain a lot eh?)
- To stop us going mad. Yeah, I said it. Poor sleep is linked to higher levels of distress, resentment, depression and rage.
- To keep our figure. Sleep not only affects your motivation to run in the winter months in particularly, and your body’s ability to recover after a workout, but also our appetite. A sleepy person is thus more likely to eat more; your body needs the energy! Studies conclude women who are suffering with their sleep, tend to be more overweight than men with sleep problems.
However, as women, sleep seems to elude us more than it does for men, partly because we are 40% more likely to suffer from insomnia; struggling to fall and stay asleep on a regular basis, charming eh? Of course, insomnia isn’t the only reason…
These little blighters are magic; They control your entire body’s functioning for the good and the bad. And are another culprit to put in the spotlight for rest, recovery, and sleep. You see, our sleep and waking cycles are dictated by our hormones,and guess how often they change?
For a lifetime…
So it’s rather vital to understand and utilize your body’s natural hormonal rhythm when it comes to exercising (and resting for that matter). It is getting more and more recognition for scientific studies and the implications for female athletes like you are finally coming to light.
A recent post here breaks down the hormones at play week-by-week, which weeks are crucial for recovery (and which are prime time for pushing for that PB!)
So here it goes. Assuming you are clued up on your hormonal cycle (click that link above if not, I’ll wait til you’re done)…
- During menstruation 1/3 of women struggle to relax (including sleep) due to cramps, headaches and bloating incidentally reporting higher levels of tiredness and fatigue.
- A stronger recovery occurs in the mid-follicular phase. You will gain more from your gym workouts. Your body will adapt better from heavier lifting, more intense sessions.
- After pregnancy, as your heightened hormones for 9 months drop alongside taking care of a newborn baby who themselves have an irregular sleep pattern; this can be a difficult time. More reports of depression, sleep-apnoea, pain and incontinence are on the rise as your hormones try to find a balance again of a pre-pregnant state.
- Menopause and hot flashes; a whopping 85% of women experience these at night, waking up in a sweat and so disturbing sleep. (so you are probably risking dehydration here too, a key component for the female runner!)
How to sleep, relax and recover better.
- Cryotherapy (ice). Undergoing a rigorous exercise regime beit interval sprints or likes of resistance training utilising temperature play for muscle recovery will be one of your secret weapons. Trust me.
10 minutes of ice (this can be ice bath submersion or icepack to the affected area) followed by 10-20 minutes of room temperature, and repeat 3-5 times.
*don’t put ice directly onto skin, apply a towel inbetween to prevent ice burning!*
- Exercise manipulation. Remember how your hormones change? (If you need a reminder here’s the link) It is a smart idea to take note of how your feeling throughout your training and adjusting to your needs. If your body needs more time off during menstruation phase, then please take it. Your body will thank you and you won’t spend the rest of your cycle playing energy catch up. Another super-secret weapon!
- Stretching. A post-exercise recovery stretch can’t go a miss. It doesn’t need to be complex 30 minute fiasco, a 15-30 second hold per muscle group would suffice. Overstretching for runners is a thing; you need the elasticity in the muscles to generate force making running somewhat effortless. So don’t worry, being flexible for a gymnast isn’t required. Not sure what to do? Apps are excellent for this. Yoga apps such as Downdog would work great too, targeting troubled, sore muscles.
- Mental relaxation.
- Nutrition. Eating a well-balanced diet is a big yes. Studies say for athletes to occupy a diet high in carbohydrates, high glycemic index evening meals, melatonin, washed down with tart cheery juice and kiwifruit is improve your night’s sleep. Links to other running based nutrition advice here
If our lack of sleep is coming from a root of ‘too many brain tabs open’ active brains don’t want to sleep, so try some relaxation work. This can be meditation (Headspace is perfect for this, the app even does sport mentality sections!) theres also free options like breathwork, mindfulness activities to quieten that brain. (Also perfect for race day jitters).
So, hit that snooze button girl, you’ve earned it (even before lacing up those running trainers!)