If you’ve been trying to get more fit for years, but you’ve hit a slump, there might be a reason: you’re not getting enough rest. Although it seems counterintuitive to take time off to improve, it’s important that your training is balanced by dedicating enough time to rest to let your body recover. Below are a few reasons why you need rest, and a few tips to help you get more sleep if you’re struggling right now.
What Exactly Is Rest?
Rest is any time that you are not actively training or moving your body. Whether you’re training for a marathon or doing the ten minutes of activity recommended to help you improve your mobility and extend your life, you should be prioritizing your rest. You should try to take at least one rest day per week, or a day when you don’t actively do any sort of workout. Rest days can still have a component of recovery work to them and do not need to be complete rest days where you do nothing, but if you try to go too long without a rest day, you will probably face burnout.
What’s the Difference Between Rest and Recovery?
Rest is a form of recovery, but there are many more forms of recovery than just resting. When you’re resting, you’re just letting your body naturally recover from your workouts without helping it along. With recovery, you are doing things to help it recover from whatever workout you’ve just done.
Some other examples of recovery include:
- Hydration. Making sure that you drink enough water before, during, and after a workout is important. If you are sweating a lot during a workout, you should also try to get some electrolytes in your hydration as well.
- Nutrition. Following the 80/20 rule works well for most amateur athletes, which is when you eat well 80% of the time and let yourself stray from “perfect” nutrition for 20% of the time. There are many foods that help aid recovery, and incorporating them can help your body recover after hard efforts. For example, eating food with high protein after a strength-based workout helps your muscles rebuild and become larger than before.
- Heating Pads or Ice. If you have tight muscles, you can use a heating pad to loosen them up to help stretch them out and avoid injuries that come with pulled or improperly warmed-up muscles. Ice, on the other hand, helps with inflammation. If you notice that you have inflammation at your joints or other areas, putting on ice can help.
- Massages. Whether you’re getting a professional massage, using a foam roller, or a massage gun, massages are a great form of recovery. They help move the lactic acid that builds up during a workout, which leads to fatigue and next-day pain. They also help loosen up your muscles, which lessens your chance of injury.
- Stretching. If you stretch following a workout, you’re practicing a form of recovery. Stretching helps your muscles stay loose and ready to go for your next workout.
If you are just starting your fitness journey, getting a pre-participating physical exam can be helpful to ensure that you aren’t going to exacerbate an existing injury. If you are going to do a sport that has a set season, getting an exam six to eight weeks before the season will give you enough time to treat any issues with your doctor. Your doctor should also be able to tell you more about forms of recovery that can help you.
Sleep: The Easiest Form of Rest
When we are asleep, our bodies are releasing the growth hormone that helps our muscles rebuild and recover after a workout. Not getting enough sleep has been connected to a negative impact on athletic performance. The amount of sleep you need changes from one person to another, but most adults need a minimum of seven hours a night. Sleep is arguably the most important recovery tool, so make sure that you’re dedicating enough time to sleeping to give your body time to adequately recover.
Tips For Getting More Sleep
If you struggle with getting enough sleep, here are a few tips that will help you move towards a healthier amount of rest.
- Create a Nighttime Routine. If you begin a nighttime routine, your body will begin to understand that at this time after these activities it’s time to sleep. You can also choose to use certain scents or sounds when you’re going to sleep. Just like Pavlov’s dog, you can begin to associate those sounds or scents with sleep, which can help you fall asleep faster.
- Sleep When It’s Dark. This may sound obvious, but making sure that you go to bed after dark and wake up around the time that the sun comes out can help you make sure you’re getting good sleep. If your routine doesn’t allow for this, consider investing in blackout curtains.
- Use Essential Oils. Essential oils are a great way to associate a scent with your nighttime or sleep routine. You can place essential oils on pulse points on your body, such as your wrists or neck. Make sure that if you’re putting essential oils on your body that they are intended for bodily use — some need to be diluted before they are placed on your skin. If you don’t want to put on any essential oils, you can also use an essential oil diffuser to make your sleeping space smell like your favorite essential oil. If you’re looking for good scents for sleep, there are some essential oil blends that have been formulated specifically for sleep, so look for those. In addition, lavender has been linked to improved sleep.
- Cut Afternoon Caffeine. If you drink coffee or caffeinated tea to get through your afternoon slump, it’s time to cut it out. It can negatively impact your sleep patterns, so make sure that you’re switching to decaf coffee or herbal tea in the afternoon.
- Talk With Your Doctor. If you really struggle with sleep, you should talk with your doctor about your options. About 17.2% of insured people in the U.S. were covered by Medicare in 2017, so whether or not you’re insured by Medicare, make sure you see your doctor for help looking into your options. Even if your doctor can’t help you directly, they should be able to refer you to an in-network specialist to help you with your sleep.
If you’ve hit a slump in your training, getting enough sleep is key to effective recovery. If you improve your sleep, you may see an improvement in your athleticism as well.