Sleep, Rest and Recovery

Sleep, rest and recovery are an essential part of body maintenance.  Adequate rest is as important to your overall health as nutrition and exercise.  A reduction in your sleep quantity or quality affects the "recharging" of your brain and body, creating detrimental effects on your physical and mental health.  Much like a rechargeable battery, you can't keep drawing down the power without recharging it for proper long term function.  


Recent research is now suggesting that the brain not only stores memories during sleep, but that it also flushes toxins out at nighttime.  This flushing action doesn't seem to work when the brain is awake and active.  Chronically poor sleep leads to increased body fat deposition, alters hormone levels, promotes chronic illness, increases aging and even reduces IQ.  It is no accident that sleep deprivation has historically been used to break people down.  Fortunately research has demonstrated that adequate sleep can reduce these risks.

Rest and recovery isn't just about sleep. When the pace of change is too fast or there are too many events occurring simultaneously, we can get overloaded. Coping techniques include:


  • Mini breaks of deep breathing or meditation can, with practice, be very relaxing and energizing.
  • Walking in your neighbourhood or during your lunch break can mentally and physically remove you from the daily stress.
  • Maintaining a regular period of exercise.
  • Sign up for, and lock in the time to do a yoga or Tai Chi class.
  • Add a vacation day to a long weekend and go somewhere different for a few days. It need not be too far or too expensive. The geographic change magnifies the extended physical break from the workplace.

Unfortunately in an attempt to keep up with work, people often drop the activities that would help promote a sense of balance in their life. Exercise, reading, recreation, and hobbies all fall by the wayside. Numerous studies and surveys also show that many Canadians don't utilize their full vacation time. People who take a week off often comment on how they were only just starting to relax. As much as people may think they can't or shouldn't get away, it's not beneficial to themselves or their employers to become burnt out employees. Whether you prefer a relaxing holiday or an active one, use them. Your brain and body will benefit from the downtime to recharge. Your work, your relationships and your physical and mental health will be the better for it.

Rest and recovery can also pertain to an injury. Appropriate care and attention for an injury helps to reduce the downtime associated with a significant problem. With some injuries complete rest may be required.  However  "active recovery" utilizes specific exercises and different activities to promote a quicker recovery. Just like regular exercise, if you do too much while healing, it can lead to damage and slower healing. In general, appropriate movement and strengthening will help improve healing and the resolution of your injury.

Sleep Tips
To obtain restful sleep requires the creation of a consistent sleep routine. Most of us can't bound out of bed to full attention and focus every morning. Similarly you need to wind down to sleep. You can't just stop whatever you're doing and then suddenly fall asleep. Practiced over time, the routine helps to prepare you to get to sleep. To create a routine, try to:    


  • Keep a regular schedule of going to bed and waking up at the same time.
  • Keep alcohol and caffeine consumption to a moderate level.
  • Avoid over eating before bed.
  • Try to limit your fluids 2-3 hours before bedtime. Drinking too much liquid shortly before bed can result in frequent waking for bathroom breaks.
  • Keep a pad of paper and pen/pencil beside your bed. Jotting a note about an important point or a really vital "to-do" the next day, let's you discharge the thoughts from keeping you awake.
  • Whatever is in your brain, get it out onto paper.
  • Turn off all electronic devices. They stimulate the brain with light, noise, and mental demands. And turn off all screens at least 30 minutes before bed. Our brain produces melatonin as light levels decrease. Melatonin ensures deep sleep, and may also help regulate our metabolism. If we have too much light at night, we don't get proper melatonin production.
  • Reduce stress before bed. This could include:
    • Gentle movement - Do some stretching or yoga.  Even 5-15 minutes can release tension and activate calm-down chemicals.
    • Reading before bed - but make sure it's not too engaging - otherwise you'll be tempted to stay up with the thrilling detective novel until the wee hours.
    • Meditation, deep breathing, or other simple relaxation exercises.
  • Go to bed before midnight. According to some sleep experts, every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after. We're meant to go to sleep when it gets dark, and to wake when it gets light.
  • Sleep at least seven hours. Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. 7 should be your baseline. Credible research demonstrates that you pay a big health (and productivity) price for consistently getting less than 7 hours.
  • Exercise regularly.  However, save the intense exercise for during the day if possible.
  • Keep the room dark; dim smart phones and clocks.
  • Find your appropriate temperature; most people prefer it to be generally cool.

The human body seems to like consistency.  And genuinely restful and restorative sleeping comes from deep sleep periods.  Controlling sleep preparation, behaviour and your sleeping environment leads to a better routine and more hours of healthier, uninterrupted sleep.