How To Build Resilience & Optimize Your Sleep, Stress, And Recovery
Daily stressors, pressures and challenges are all part of life. In fact, some stress is actually quite helpful. Exercise, for example, is a stressor on the body (think muscle tears, elevated heart rate etc) that is good for us because we come back stronger (bigger muscles, fitter heart). Similarly, jumping into an ice bath knocks your breath away, but the stress on your system actually builds resilience. It's only when stress becomes chronic (ongoing) without subsiding that it becomes bad for us. Similarly, recovery after mental and physical stress is so important because it allows us to come back sooner and stronger to achieve optimal performance. Below is a guide to build resilience by optimizing your sleep, stress and recovery like a champ!
Matthew Walker writes, “Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?”
Of course, it’s all tongue in cheek and he makes the point that if this was the ad for a pill, the pharmaceutical company would be printing cash. Yet he is talking about sleep and how all of the above benefits have been scientifically proven to come from sleep. Somehow, most people still don’t prioritise sleep and brag that they can do their jobs on three to four hours of sleep.
While it is true that we all have different sleep requirements and sleep times, the truth is that numerous functions of the brain are restored during sleep, and we simply cannot get around that or escape the effects of not sleeping enough. It will catch up with you at some point in your future, and we cannot restore that health once it is too late.
But enough about that: we all know by now that it is crucial to sleep. What we need to know is how to get the most out of our sleep, because quality matters as much as quantity.
I use an Oura Ring to track my sleep because while I fall asleep easily and stay asleep, I find that the most of my sleep is light sleep, i.e. not deep sleep or REM sleep, both of which are where you get the real benefits of sleep. So, in a quest for optimal sleep, I’ve experimented with multiple strategies and below are the ones that I find to be the needle-movers:
- Consistent sleep and wake times.We can’t always control this and it’s not something to be too pedantic about, but going to bed and waking up at more or less the same time every day improves the quality of your sleep.
- Stop eating 2-3 hours before bedtime. This one isn’t easy because most people like a little snack before bedtime. I didn’t think it could make such a big difference, but my heart rate drops much later in my sleep cycle when I eat late at night. This is because your body is dealing with digestion when you first fall asleep instead of recovery and really interrupts your sleep without you even knowing it.
- Sleep hygiene. Sleeping in a dark and cool (around 18 to 20 degrees) makes a big difference to the quality of your sleep. Block-out curtains make a big difference if you can have them, and I’m a real pain about making sure that there aren’t any alarm, multiplug or other little electronic lights shining in the bedroom. That little red light on a television could have a big impact on your sleep quality (duct tape works well!). It sounds so insignificant, but the studies are surprising in terms of how big the impact is.
- Avoiding blue light. This ties up to the above point – any artificial light in the hours before bedtime are destructive to your sleep. Simplistically, your body can’t tell the difference between your cell phone light and sunshine, so it doesn’t recognise that it’s time to start making the sleep hormone melatonin. This hormone should be getting higher and higher as the sun starts to go down, telling your body to wind down before bedtime. When we are exposed to indoor lighting and electronics, this signal doesn’t happen. Sitting by candlelight might be romantic once in a while, but it’s not a solution for every night! Instead, good options include fitting something like the TrueLight Luna Red Sunset Sleep Light (or other red lights) in your house, or I also really like wearing blue light blocking glasses for about 2 hours before I go to bed. A good dose of red light therapy also goes a long way to improve my sleep. Shop the range of TRUEDARK Blue Blocking Glasses here.
- Sleep mask. We can’t always control our sleep environment, so wearing a sleep mask (I love the 3D Breathable Sleep Mask for comfort and quality) is a simple yet super effective tool to ensure that you are sleeping in a dark environment.
- Mouth taping. This sounds batsh*t crazy at first, but its surprisingly easy to implement and makes a big difference for people suffering from sleep apnoea (a condition most people are unaware that they even suffer from) because it forces you into nasal breathing, which is a great way to improve the quality of your sleep. Not the sexiest kit for bedtime but it works like a charm!
I’m a massive fan of supplementing for sleep. Not sleeping pills though, because I’ve seen the addictive impact that this can have on people and I would personally avoid them at all costs, because people struggle to return to normal sleep without them again. But smart supplementation is a real aid in a world of noise, artificial light and stress. My favourites are:
- Melatonin (about 3mg): if you struggle to fall asleep, then melatonin (a natural hormone in our bodies) is a good option to raise your natural melatonin levels
- PRIMESELF Magnesium Complex: the magnesium glycinate in this innovative product has a potent calming effect, especially due to the glycine that it is bound to, which is an amino acid with calming properties and therefore a great option before bedtime. SHOP HERE.
- PRIMESELF Natural Sleep: this product contains Vitamin B6, Valerian Root, Passionflower, Magnesium Glycinate and L-Theanine. All of these promote entering into deep sleep early on in your sleep cycle, which is exactly how a healthy sleep cycle should progress. SHOP HERE.
- NeuroActive’s Neuro Night: saving the best for last, this is my personal favourite sleep product, like ever! It contains a low dose of melatonin, as well as lithium orotate (good for brain health), magnesium, ashwagandha, bacopa monnieri, gotu kola, L-Theanine and taurine. You will probably recognise most of these ingredients as superstars for restoring calm or promoting sleep and I take this almost every night because of the positive impact that it has had on the quality of my sleep. SHOP HERE.
Prioritise your sleep by implementing some of the above tricks and tools and your overall health will thank you for it for many years to come!
Read our other blog articles on sleep:
Stress is small quantities is a good thing and makes us more resilient. Unfortunately, however, the stress that we are mostly exposed to is chronic, persistent stress and it is as detrimental to our health as not sleeping enough! Here are a few tips to manage your stress levels (be it from work, relationships, excessive exercise, financial stress etc):
- Mindful meditation: this is not as woowoo or unachievable as it may sound; it merely involves focusing your mind on the present, without judging yourself and aiming to not be distracted by our bad day or how stressful tomorrow will be. Sit on a pillow, focus on your breathing and when your thoughts wander, acknowledge that and come back to focusing on your breathing. This sounds too good to be true, but following this simple process has been proven to improve mood, decrease stress and can even boost your immunity. 5-10 minutes is all it takes.
If meditation is not your vibe, sit in a quiet place and think happy thoughts! A kiss, a birth, a celebration, a close moment with friends or family or crossing a finish line or difficult task completed well. You can literally feel your body respond: shoulders relax, you breathe differently and tension eases. Give it a go (and be mindful that negative thoughts have the opposite effect)!
- Breathing: it’s no secret anymore that breathing (free, easy, no excuses!) is a game changer for managing stress. It turns out that deep breathing not only relaxes us, but is clinically proven to positively affect your heart, brain, digestion and even the way in which your genes express themselves. Box-breathing (4 counts inhale, 4 counts hold, 4 counts exhale, 4 counts hold) and 4-7-8 breathing (4 counts inhale, 7 counts hold, 8 counts exhale) can be done scattered throughout your day and are massively beneficial for your stress response.
- Nootropics & Adaptogens: these days, doctors so easily prescribe anti-depressants and other pharmaceuticals to combat anxiety. However, many people have realised that weaning yourself off of these, especially if you took them for a short-term stressor like a loony in-law, is more trouble that it’s worth. Look no further than a number of highly-effective, proven, natural products to add some zen to your hosting game and sparkle to your work pressures.
My favourites are:
- Bacopa Monnieri
- Rhodiola Rosea
- Reishi Mushroom
- Lemon Balm
- PRIMESELF’s Zen Mode
Read our other blog articles on stress:
Ice packs, post-workout shakes and stretching are so old school when it comes to recovery! While simplicity is great (and don’t get me wrong, some of the above work just fine), there are better, cleverer ways to speed up your recovery process, whether that is from physical or emotional and mental strain.
There are some properly fringe tactics (becoming mainstream) out there, like stem cell therapy (a blog for another day), cryotherapy (we all know that cold therapy is very beneficial for recovery), magnets (some promising studies show their ability to improve nervous tissue regeneration and wound healing), electrical muscle stimulation (EMS), pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy and inversion therapy (hanging upside down like a bat has some impressive lymphatic drainage benefits). But these aren’t exactly accessible to the vast majority of the population (although, do look into them if you’re in need of some serious recovery solutions!).
Here are a couple of easier to achieve tactics to achieve recovery as quickly and as effectively as possible!
Deep Tissue Massage Therapy
That’s right! No longer the domain of self-care, professional athletes or Girls’ Day Out, a deep tissue massage is an excellent strategy for removing knots, promoting lymphatic drainage and mobilising the connective tissue in our bodies. It is also far more effective than stretching. And if you’re thinking that regular massages for recovery is waaaaay too expensive, the good news is that a good foam roller, together with a tennis ball can be equally effective (albeit less relaxing). Find the time to use these tools to loosen tight muscles, even if it is while watching TV!
Red Light Therapy (RLT)
RLT improves physical recovery at a cellular level and allows your cells to generate more energy, which allows them to actually repair themselves. I’ve got a small RLT unit and whenever my knee niggles, I just give my knee some sessions with the red light and presto. In all seriousness, I really do think it is a great tool for recovery!
Similarly, infrared sauna combines light and heat. Infrared light can raise white blood cell counts, enhance immunity and importantly, increase blood flow to injured/recovering muscles.
You know how we generally get told to make sure you get carbs and/or protein almost immediately post workout? Well (perhaps sadly?) the latest research shows that fasting, even after a gruelling workout, can have a very beneficial recovery effect. Autophagy is triggered when the body is in a fasted state, which basically means that cells are given a make-over and/or recycled.
In a study, cyclists were asked to fast overnight for a period of 3 weeks. The results were that the fasting improved post-workout recovery while also keeping their lean muscle mass intact. Exercising in a fasted state also seems to activate muscle protein translation, which means that your muscles recover faster.
You can have all the equipment, massages, stem cell injections and cryotherapy chambers that you want, but if you eat a diet that is inflammatory to your body, you cannot escape joint pain or slow recovery. It cannot be done when your body is chronically inflamed. And your food choices either create inflammation or they eliminate chronic inflammation.
Foods laden with vegetable oil (they get snuck into almost anything these days, including cappuccino powder sachets!), or drinking too much coffee or processed carbohydrates are all contributors, so it’s important to consciously make food choices that limit inflammation. Popular anti-inflammatory foods include pineapples, berries and ginger.
Try to incorporate curcumin (via the turmeric spice or supplement) daily if you can. This is an anti-inflammatory shown to be as effective as injectable cortisone! Consume a bit of black pepper with curcumin to make it more bioavailable.
SHOP HERE: NeuroActive Curcumin Plus
Epsom salt baths are well known soaks for sore muscles. Float tanks also work really well for relaxation and easing muscle soreness, but I love this tactic because a box of Epsom salts is affordable for most and works really well.
Want to up your magnesium recovery game? Concentrated magnesium chloride applied topically (there are a few good sprays out there) works wonders for sore muscles. Be warned that it can cause a bit of a tingling or burning feeling when applied, but it doesn’t last long and goes away if you use the spray often enough.
A magnesium deficiency often plays itself out in muscle cramps, excessive soreness and poor sleep. I really like to supplement with PRIMESELF’s Magnesium Complex because it combines Magnesium L-Threonate, Magnesium Glycinate and Magnesium Malate which are all supportive of easing muscle tension and soreness.
CBD is an effective in combatting inflammation, especially acute inflammation after extended workouts like endurance races and will assist not only with relieving pain from your marathon workout but also with healing your body afterwards.
Read More: CBD Oil's Benefits For Both Body and Mind
The Wrap Up
There you have it. Some well-established methods for improving sleep, recovery times and managing stress. These allow you to train like a beast (a well-recovered beast can go harder sooner on the next workout), manage disease, live longer and live happier! Incorporate these into your daily routine and you’ll quickly see the benefits of prioritising your health..
- Thea is the founder of Neolaia – Biohacking SA and passionate about all things biohacking, functional medicine, holistic and ancestral wellness. She enjoys the occasional triathlon, is fanatic about yoga and the gym and loves n=1 biohacking experiments more than anything else! Learning about the latest in scientific research for health and wellness and applying this knowledge is what makes her happiest!
This information does not serve as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is for informational purposes only and does not provide a comprehensive explanation of the different compounds. Always consult your doctor first when making any changes to medication or supplementation.