How Quality Sleep & Recovery Improve Your Wellness

You need regular sleep of good quality and adequate duration to fully recover and recharge from the previous day.

If you wake up feeling unrested you are in a deprived state of wellness. Without proper rest, recovery, and sleep your mind and body can’t fully regenerate. The quality of your mood and outlook on life hinges upon the quality of your sleep. It’s the difference between waking up with a smile on your face, ready to enjoy your day, or,

  • Feeling like a zombie, having brain-fog and bumping into things all day, or;
  • Being a total B’atch all day (and we use this gender neutral term to apply to everyone, myself included!).

Rest, Recovery, and Sleep

Rest is a State of Mind

Do you feel rested? How would you describe that feeling? How often do you feel fully rested?

I describe rest as the feeling of alertness, unconscious energy, calmness, and mental clarity. Rest can also be an “action” (which seems like an oxymoron) in the sense of taking a short rest in the afternoon. And why would you take a rest? To recharge (and recover) your energy levels to function at your best.

Think of rest as a quality of wellbeing that is the byproduct or result from adequate recovery and sleep.

Recovery Essentially Means Repair

You may need to recover from a night of over-drinking by sleeping off your hangover. You may need to recover from a cold, illness, or injury, or you may need to recover from a stressful situation like a hard day at work, or a difficult emotional exchange with a loved one.

How do you recover? It depends on the situation. If you’ve been unwell in any way, taking more rest and getting quality sleep are essential. If your emotions are frayed for any reason, possible recovery methods include meditation, having a heart-to-heart conversation with a close friend, or taking a long walk alone in nature.sleeping

Sleep is the One that Trumps them All

Without proper sleep you will not feel rested, nor will you be able to fully recover. If you broke your leg, for example, you would need more sleep than normal to allow your body to rest while it builds connective tissues and heals.

Download this infographic on the power of sleep, why it's important, and how to get more of it.

Breathing is Essential for Recovery

We can only last a couple of minutes without oxygen before we die. Without proper breathing during periods of rest or sleep we can’t fully regenerate to function at full capacity. Have you ever gone to bed congested from allergies or a flu? How well did you sleep when breathing was difficult?

Proper breathing is also a form of restfulness. Often when stressed we breathe high up in our chest. This shorter breathing depletes us by depriving the body of oxygen and increasing the release of cortisol (the fight or flight hormone) as a response to stress.

Try this Breathing Exercise

When you realize that you’re stressed, check in with your breathing and notice the speed, the depth and your heart rate.

Sit upright on a chair and with good posture. Put your hands on your stomach to focus and take a deep, slow breath through your nose, fully expanding your abdomen. Hold your breath for a moment and then slowly release it through your nose.

Do this slow inhale and exhale a few times and then notice how you feel. Pay attention to your heart rate. Has it slowed down? Are you feeling calmer and more centred?

When Sleep Goes Terribly Wrong

What can you do when something out of your control begins to negatively affect your health and damage the four pillars that support your wellness?

In the summer of 2000 something started to go wrong. I was in peak physical shape, dating a hot guy and I looked amazing with my shirt off for Toronto Pride. I was taking part in a 6-month program called “Scrawny to Brawny,” which was teaching me how to bulk up and add more lean muscle to my body.

Towards the end of August I began to feel like something was “off.” In September I was having trouble eating the amount of food needed to gain the muscle I wanted to add to my body. I was constantly fatigued, which meant I wasn’t working out as hard or as often as needed to achieve my goals.

In October things got worse. I needed to take a nap two to three times per day and I felt like crying all the time, because my emotions were out of whack for no clear reason. Riding my bike was unsafe because my vision was blurry and I was having trouble concentrating. Then, on Halloween, I was walking my dog, Buster. I looked to my right, took a step and walked smack into a light post breaking open the skin of my eyebrow to such an extent that I needed three stitches.

Darren wired up for a sleep studyDuring this time, several trips to my doctor offered no explanation. A prescription for sleeping pills only made things worse. Finally, I went for an over-night sleep study in November, the kind where they wire you up with electrodes, which makes it that much more difficult to sleep. 

Two weeks later at a follow-up appointment the doctor told me that I had severe sleep apnea. In my case I stopped breathing for 10 seconds every minute. My brain scans showed that I never went past a level two sleep and my REM patterns were erratic and too short in duration.

There was no explanation. The doctor looked at me and said, “Normally I would be explaining this diagnosis to someone who was obese, or who had recently experienced a lot of body-fat gain, but clearly you’re neither.”


I was fitted with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine and after about a week of using it while sleeping I started to feel better. It took a month to get back to 80 or 90% of my ideal wellness and a couple more months until I was back to 100%.

It took closer to two years to accept this aspect of my health on an emotional level. I felt embarrassed, defective and a lot more in tune with my mortality. You can read more about my experience in the post, Why Did the Personal Trainer Stop Working Out?

The lesson from my experience is that my pillar of Sleep & Recovery slowly broke down and it affected every other pillar. It had a negative affect on my ability to exercise. I was so over-tired that I had no energy to lift and my nervous system was incapable of controlling heavy weights.

the sleep cycleThe lack of restorative sleep affected my nutrition as well. I lost my appetite and I craved carbs and sugar. My brain was crying out for glucose as a solution to deal with the lack of regenerative REM sleep.

Finally, my mental and emotional wellbeing was close to non-existent. I felt like crying all the time, I felt hopeless and lost, I worried about my mortality, and worst of all I could not think straight.

All that drama was over five years ago. Today, I feel like I’m in incredible health for 50 and let me just say how fucking grateful I am for that!

I know many people have had far worse health scares than I have and I’m not trying to make you feel sorry for me. This experience is uniquely my own and it’s helped me to understand how vital each of the four pillars are to support optimal wellness.

Wellness is Like a Series of Dominosdominoes

When you knock over one of the dominos, and if they are all lined up just right, you create a cascade effect that knocks them all down. If one of your health pillars knocks down the others the roof will collapse on top of you.

I don’t want you to suffer a damaging event to your health, which is why I’m taking this time to tell you about the four pillars and how they depend upon each other to support your wellness.

Wellness is a Complex Equation that is Unique to You

The more you know about all the elements of the equation, the more efficiently you can address health challenges as they show up, before the damage becomes too difficult to repair.

If you’re not already part of the 4 Pillars of Wellness Free Video Course, click the button below. You’ll get immediate access to the program, the bonuses and worksheets that support each video and post. If you do the work you will be surprised how just a few small habits can make incredible improvements to your health.

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In the next post and video we will look at the fourth and final pillar, how emotional wellbeing affect your wellness.

Eat healthy, move often, be well!