Rest, Recovery, and a Positive Mindset

6 Min Read | By Liam Porter

Last Modified 13 June 2023   First Added 9 July 2021

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.

Dreams are proud to be exploring this topic as the Official Sleep Partner of the British Paralympic Association/ParalympicsGB. Learn more about this partnership in our ParalympicsGB hub.

We spoke to Ali Jawad, Paralympic powerlifter, as well as Dr Tom Paulson and Michael Hutchinson from the British Paralympic Association Performance Team about the preparation for the Games and how important rest, recovery and a positive mindset are for performing and training.

Especially during COVID-19, the road to Japan hasn’t been smooth. Having UK and worldwide restrictions has impacted the strict training routines of nearly all Paralympians. Having a positive mindset has been more important than ever. And as always, rest and recovery have played a key role in the athletes’ preparation for the Games.

Across all our conversations with athletes and ParalympicsGB staff, it’s clear that sleep is a priority to ensure the athletes can train and compete at their best. Here, we quiz Ali, Tom and Michael give on the challenges Paralympians face and how they ensure they’re well-rested and primed for peak performance.

Getting enough rest

Kicking things off with Ali Jawad, the Paralympic powerlifter told us how his performance is affected by a bad night’s sleep, and how he tackles tiredness during training.

When I’ve had a bad night’s sleep, I’m much less alert, I lack energy and it takes me a while to wake up. I also feel quite weak, and my sport involves me lifting heavy weights – so sleep is very important for the training.

When my training is really intense and I’ve not been sleeping well, I might have a 20-minute nap, but actually, I prefer trying to get an extra hour at the weekend. Fridays are my biggest sessions in the gym, so at the weekends, I try to have a slightly lazier day to help my recovery.

As an athlete, you’re always going to be tired and have those aches and pains because you’re at the top level, but it’s about pushing through it.

Prioritizing sleep

With sleep such an imperative aspect of an athlete’s training schedule, Dr Tom and Michael spoke about how they encourage athletes to get enough rest. Dr Tom says:

Each athlete has an individual performance plan to ensure they’re fit and rested. There is an emphasis on giving them everything they need, including nutrition, but also sleep and recovery at home. It’s often something that can be overlooked.

In specific cases, where athletes are recording regular poor periods of sleep, we might look at certain interventions or focuses. An athlete who isn’t sleeping for long would flag to us that they need support with something.

At Sleep Matters Club, we know just how important it is to prioritise sleep. Our post on the top 10 benefits of sleep identifies some important reasons for paying attention to the quality of your sleep, including:

  • Helping to reduce stress
  • Improving your memory
  • Lowering your blood pressure
  • Aiding in weight maintenance
  • Improving your mood
  • Keeping your heart healthy

From its impact on mental health and creativity to how it aids brain development, improving sleep is a must for anyone at all interested in self-improvement. Check out our quick guide on 10 ways to sleep at better night or read the below guides for our expert takes on why sleep is so important.

How sleep affects training and recovery

It’s common to see your sleeping pattern change during busy periods, so we wanted to explore how athletes’ sleep changes based on the intensity of their training – particularly in the lead up to the Games. Michael explains:

One of the potential factors affecting an athlete’s sleep is the volume and amount of training they’re doing. They go through periods where they’re doing high volumes of training to improve their performance. During this time, we often find there is an association with a greater impact on sleep. We don’t really know if poor sleep comes from the increase in training, or whether the poor sleep is the mechanism behind all of it!

It’s clear that sleep isn’t just about allowing the body to physically recover. It’s also related to some of the hormonal aspects, general levels of alertness, mood and the readiness to engage in training. Over at Fatigue Science, research was undertaken into exactly how sleep affects sports performance. Some of the results included positive improvements on:

  • Reaction times
  • Motor function
  • Sprint performance
  • Focus
  • Motivation

Read more in our post about how sleep affects motivation and performance.

A positive mindset:

With the pandemic delaying the Games, athletes have had to change their daily routines and training schedules. So, how have they stayed positive and kept an element of structure? Here’s what Dr Tom had to say:

Many athletes have been forced to discover new and novel ways of training that they wouldn’t have experienced before. It’s given them a real sense of creativity, and I think that they have enjoyed and embraced that. It just goes to show that what we were doing before doesn’t have to be the only way.

On the flip side, some athletes have struggled without structure, particularly when at home for prolonged periods. That has started to impact on their rest time, vs training. That’s when they start to get impaired sleep, as they’re not fully switching off.

To tackle this, the ParalympicsGB Performance Team take careful consideration when it comes to sleep. From advising on morning and evening routines to adapting diets to promote good sleep habits, Paralympic sleep is about more than just those doing the nodding off.

One thing’s for sure, the pandemic has changed the way that Paralympic hopefuls prepare for the future. Whether it’s virtual communication or allowing time to work and spend at home, Dr Tom says there has been a positive shift.

The whole situation has shown us that there are different ways of doing things. There are opportunities to do things remotely, to help people be closer to their support networks. The less you travel, the more time you can rest at home.

And while it’s no doubt been difficult to navigate lockdowns while preparing for the Paralympic Games, there’s no doubt the athletes’ positive mindsets have done wonders for their training. Remember: the quality of your sleep impacts more than you realise; from agility to memory and from physical to mental health. So, be sure to keep an eye on the hours you clock in each night!

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