I confess. I set my alarm to go off this morning and hit snooze.
That’s not a good sign.
The single most important recovery tool for women in midlife who are training for physical performance that includes:
- Workload stressors
- Exercise stressors
- Hormone shifts
- Daily to-do lists
Any of those things individually, and certainly all of those things collectively, can increase the need for sleep for:
- Muscle repair
- Brain and memory improvement
- Hormone rebalance
Typical for many women is that more than one of those happen simultaneously. All of these suggest that you need to pay attention to exercise recovery as much as you do the exercise itself.
So it is with me.
I’m training for an event, not in isolation. The same, if not some additional responsibilities that come with running a business still exist in my day to day life.
If you’re exercising with a goal (be it weight loss, enhanced health, or a performance goal) while working and you’ve not taken anything off your plate, only added, it’s similar for you. You need to pay more attention to exercise recovery. Don’t we all try to commit too much to memory, if even just passwords! My hormones are shifting. My tests show different levels than two years ago. Irregular periods and changing skin testify to that.
The single best indicator that you’re not meeting your sleep needs so that you can:
- Reach the deepest cycles of sleep
- Release hormones necessary for functioning optimally
- Function with mental clarity and reaction skills
is having to rise to an alarm clock.
(if you’re not watching Flipping 50 TV, check out this icon to the left in any episode because it’s about me talking about you becoming an overnight success)
Without sleep, all the right nutrition and the right exercise can fail to produce the results you’ve earned because you don’t have this King of recovery working for you.
Hormones like testosterone and growth hormone (GH) are released during sleep. GH is released during the last phases in your sleep cycle. You don’t spend a lot of time there, but the time you do is important. So if you’re not allowing yourself enough time in bed you can’t get even what is shortened now in midlife and you’re preventing recovery.
Flipping 50 Fact: our time in deepest sleep cycles is reduced with age, but if you’re sleeping with someone who snores, you’re using screens right up until you go to bed, or you’re frequently waking in the night and not working on reducing that, you’re making matters worse.
Signs you need more sleep (aka, exercise recovery):
- Mood or impatience
- Inability to concentrate or focus
- Poor memory
- Poor performance (not able to lift as much weight, breathlessness at what’s a usually easy level)
- Elevated morning heart rate
- Lingering soreness
- Inability to lose weight
Rarely, but it bears saying, too long sleeps can also be prohibitive to good health. Sleeping 10 or more hours is related to more depression and heart health risk. I’m not going to dwell on that here since it’s not the problem for most women in their second 50.
So the signs my training volume has increased my need for sleep are clear. For the last few weeks I’ve had to set an alarm to fit in both work and early workouts while hosting some visitors. Even with a compromised workout cut short by 50% the need to have an early wake up call exists sometimes.
I naturally wake at 5:00 or even 5:30 am now that (sadly) it’s dark at that time and sun is no longer streaming into my window. Setting the alarm for 30 minutes earlier is not the problem.
The problem is twofold:
- I haven’t accounted for that 30 minutes on the front end and made bedtime earlier.
- I haven’t accounted for an increased need for sleep when other daytime stressors increase. (For me that’s training, and an additional work project – for you it may be something else)
So literally, I’m going to state the obvious, because since I’ve put 4 year olds to be recently, worked with college students for 15 years, and midlife women for 34, we tend to get this wrong no matter how old we are.
If bedtime is usually at 9pm. (I’m using myself as the example here) and I’m cutting 30 minutes off my natural wake time, I’ve got to make bedtime 8:30.
If however, I’ve got additional stressors and major decision-making during the day, my need for sleep increases. To clarify, it’s not just a heightened need: the amount of sleep I need is greater. So I actually need to make bedtime closer to 8pm.
Then I need to test that and see if I’m waking naturally instead of needing to rely on the alarm. If not, I’ll try a half hour earlier.
If you’re silently objecting, thinking you could never do that, or it’s still light out, or you’ve barely gotten home, beware that these are things that get in the way of you getting rest, to tame the monster that’s creating more stress. Give in for a week and see how you feel. If you need the extra sleep, you’ll be glad you got it when days are brighter.
What about naps for exercise recovery?
I’m often asked where naps fit in. My answer? Usually, is that they don’t.
Here’s my confession. I took a nap last Sunday for the first time in I-can’t-remember-when. I had done a long bike ride on Saturday, a long swim on Sunday morning, and it was scorching hot outside in the sun where I recovered for an hour or so after the swim. I came home and found a cool spot in the house with my computer but never got farther than opening it before falling asleep. Oddly, I woke up extremely rested, and sleep well that night too.
My advice on naps is if you are not sleeping well at night, don’t take one. Focus on getting the nighttime routine right. If you fall asleep in a chair in the evening, you’re not getting enough recovery sleep. You’re getting in the way of reaching your potential. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’re impeding that. If you’re trying to perform better, you’re impeding that.
Start with nighttime sleep quality. Then work on quantity and make sure it’s meeting your needs. If you’re sleeping optimal quality and quantity then a nap if you have some monster things going on is fine. Just watch for signs naps disrupt your nighttime sleep, which is most important.
Our Exercise Recovery Mistake
Most of you reading this, I’m going to take a stab, are doing more. You’re more inclined to say, if x isn’t working then I’ll try x + y and work harder or go 4 days instead of 3. Sometimes we miss the best place to put more. Your exercise may be fine! But you may need another rest day before you do it again. You may need to get back that hour of sleep you’re short sheeting yourself on that adds up to an entire night’s sleep lost after a week!
Try that first, then play with the other variables.
If you haven’t read Sleep Yourself Skinny, try that. It will both convince you and give you some step-by-step changes to make to test what works for you.
P.S. You can’t ignore nutrition and the right exercise! Refuel at the right time with the right stuff. Sometimes undue fatigue can be due to nutrition needs not being met. Reading this as it’s released? Shipfreeprotein is on right now through Friday, September