Why You Need Sleep for Muscle Recovery

Sleep helps regulate many of your body systems and behaviors like appetite regulation, metabolism, and the immune system. It also gives the body time to repair and recover from the wear and tear of everyday life, workouts, and injury. Without it, the body doesn’t have time to recover, leaving you fatigued and achy for longer than necessary. However, there are many habits and behaviors that you can incorporate into your life to improve the quality (and quantity) of your sleep.

Sleep – Repairing, Building, and Rejuvenating

Increased activity and intense workouts can cause micro tears in your muscle tissue. While you sleep, the body repairs these micro tears, which builds muscle mass and strength. However, a shortened sleep time or altered sleep schedule can interfere with the process. Normally, you go through five or six 90-minute sleep cycles in an average night.

If you do the math, that means you need somewhere between seven to nine hours of sleep for the body to be fully rested. Throughout each of the sleep cycles, your body will enter five sleep stages. You don’t spend equal time in each stage, but they are all necessary for your health. Muscle recovery starts during stage III, the first of the deep sleep stages. During this stage, the body releases growth hormone (GH) to stimulate the protein synthesis necessary for muscle recovery.

But the release of GH follows a pattern that if deviated from, lengthens recovery time. When you get a full night’s sleep, GH levels peak during the first sleep cycle of the night. GH continues to be released in the following sleep cycles but in progressively smaller amounts. Sleep deprivation, which is anytime you get less than seven hours of sleep, reduces the number of sleep cycles and, consequently, GH.

But, it’s not just a lack of sleep that gets in the way of muscle recovery. If you go to bed two or three hours later than normal, GH doesn’t peak in that first sleep cycle. Instead, it reaches a smaller peak during the second sleep cycle. As it gets released in the subsequent cycles, it never reaches normal levels. The results are similar to those experienced during sleep deprivation – limited muscle recovery. Luckily, there are many things you can do to improve your sleep.

Making Changes for Better Sleep

Most of your daily habits and behaviors come back to affect your sleep. To get more sleep, try:

  • Increasing Your Comfort: A cool, dark, quiet bedroom supports the lower body temperature necessary for sleep as well as reduced distractions in the bedroom. Your bed also plays a big role in your comfort. Be sure your mattress supports your preferred sleep style and weight. If you wake with aches and pains, you may need a softer mattress that conforms to your body.
  • Making More Time for Sleep: Set a bedtime and stick to it. Consistency allows your brain to correctly time the release of sleep hormones.
  • Using a Bedtime Routine to Reduce Stress: Bedtime routines help the brain recognize when to start the release of sleep hormones. They also give you a chance to reduce stress before bed. Meditation, gentle yoga poses, or a warm bath are all good ways to calm your mind and body for better sleep.

Sleep is a necessary biological function that’s often forgotten until you’re not getting enough of it. If you make it a priority, you’ll create habits that will help you reach your health goals.

-Sara Westgreen






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