Why Sleep is the Best Recovery Tool

Sleep is currently the best physiological and psychological recovery tool we have available to us.

There is good evidence to indicate that a lack of sleep can adversely affect many factors related to your performance, recovery and health. A lack of sleep can negatively impact your physical performance, including your strength, power and endurance (particularly your endurance as it affects your motivation) AND your mental performance, including your reaction time and decision-making ability.

Exercise Right had the opportunity to speak with Dr Peter Fowler about the importance of sleep and why it’s the best tool for recovery.

Dr Peter Fowler – The Recovery Specialist

Peter has fifteen years’ experience working in high performance sport in England, Qatar and Australia. He has worked in the English Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, within the Department of Physiology at the Australian Institute of Sport, and with several football clubs in the Australian A-league.

Peter also has a PhD in Sleep and Recovery in Elite Athletes and has engaged in cutting edge research focused on developing practical interventions for athletes to improve recovery at Aspetar Sports Medicine Hospital in Qatar.

During his time in Qatar, Peter also acted as a consultant to many elite athletes, clubs and organisations, including the English Premier League, Rugby Sevens World Series, NRL, NFL and McLaren F1 team. Peter also provided his services to the Qatar Olympic team and Football Association.

In 2019, Peter opened The Recovery Room on the Sunshine Coast, which allowed him to share recovery technology, equipment and education at levels with the general public (usually reserved for elite athletes)  to help them achieve their life, health, fitness and sporting goals.

Peter’s only frustration with The Recovery Room was that the number of people who could access the equipment and knowledge was limited to mainly those living on the Sunshine Coast. That is why he has now gone online and launched The Recovery Project, where he is on a mission to ensure that a high level of recovery equipment and knowledge is accessible to anyone.


The 3 processes of sleep:

Our sleep is controlled by 3 processes. Understanding these processes can help us to understand where our sleep can go wrong and relate to the sleep tips provided below.

1. Sleep Homeostasis

In very simple terms, the longer we have been awake the higher the pressure for sleep is and the sleepier we feel. When we go to bed in the evening, we need our sleep pressure to be high to be able to fall asleep.

It’s like a rubber band, you need stretch in the band (sleep pressure) for it to be able to snap back into place quickly (fall asleep within 30 min).

Things that can negatively impact our sleep pressure are napping and caffeine. That is why it is recommended that we don’t nap for too long during the day (less than 30 min) and avoid napping and caffeine intake within 6 h of our normal bedtime.

2. Circadian Rhythms

The two main circadian rhythms that influence your sleep are those in body temperature and melatonin.

In the evening your body temperature decreases whilst melatonin secretion increases. This helps you to fall asleep and stay asleep. The opposite happens in the morning to help you wake up.

However, the timing of these changes will depend on whether you are an “early bird”, “night owl” or somewhere in between.

“Night owls” are driven to stay up and sleep in later, whereas “early birds” are driven to go to bed and wake up earlier.

If you are a “night owl” or “early bird”, you need to make sure your bed and wake times align with these drives.

3. Sleep Automaticity

Sleep is an automatic process. Unfortunately, you can’t tell yourself to sleep and then fall asleep instantly. In fact, sleep works the opposite way, the more you think about it, the worse it can get. If you ask a good sleeper what they do to sleep well, it is likely that they will say “nothing”!

In that way, sleep is its own separate entity. You can’t be as prescriptive with sleep as you can be with your training (e.g. do 3 sets of 10). For example, if you set yourself the target of getting 10 h of sleep, striving to achieve that will result in you sleeping worse.

Top 3 Sleep Tips:

 1. Consistent Wake Time

 You’re likely to start feeling sleepy (with no nap) 16 hours after you have woken up. If your wake time is consistent, then your bedtime will also become consistent.

2. Stop trying to ‘produce’ sleep

 Sleep is a PASSIVE thing. Shift your attention to things you enjoy (e.g. reading, watching your favourite Netflix show, listening to music etc.); this will take your mind off sleep and will help you fall asleep faster.

A word of warning on sleep hygiene. Don’t treat this like a ‘To Do’ list as its not helpful to have to perform certain behaviours to be able to fall asleep. Instead treat it like a ‘To Don’t’ list. Check that you’re not doing anything that’s going to potentially sabotage your sleep. If you are, aim to change that behaviour. If you’re not, then move on and don’t worry about it.

3. Resist the temptation to ‘catch up’ on sleep by taking a long nap

 Your brain is clever, if you have a bad night’s sleep, then it will automatically adjust the amount of time you spend in different sleep stages the following night to compensate.

If you have trouble sleeping at night, fight the urge to take a long (more than 30 min) daytime nap. This will reduce your sleep drive, which is the only thing that can ‘produce’ sleep.

Speak with a professional

Accredited exercise professionals are university-qualified who are equipped with the knowledge and skills to improve health, fitness, well-being, performance, and assist in correct recovery methods.

To find an accredited exercise professional near you, click here.



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Written by Dr Peter Fowler. We have partnered with Nike Australia Pty Ltd for this article series. The views expressed in this article, unless otherwise cited, are exclusively those of the author, Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA). ESSA is a professional organisation committed to establishing, promoting and defending the career paths of tertiary trained exercise and sports science practitioners.

Nike had no role in the collection, analysis, or interpretation of data or research or the writing of this article.