Sleep’s Role in Recovery

Don’t Skip This Part of Your Workout!

You go to the gym every day. The day isn’t complete without a workout or practice, and your cupboard is stocked with everything you need to rebuild and recover – or so you think. Your energy isn’t what it used to be. You’ve tried eating more protein, and you’re drinking plenty of fluids. What’s missing? You might be overlooking a key part of training and recovery: sleep. Catching some Z’s may feel like downtime to you, but your brain and body kick into high gear during this time. Everything from brain cells to muscle tissue is repaired and even grows while you sleep, helping you meet the next challenge.

How Sleep Affects Your Muscles

While you sleep, your body makes the hormones that help repair damaged muscle fibers. This includes growth hormones and testosterone (yes, even for women). They also help your body make new protein, the building blocks of muscle tissue. This happens up to 30% faster during sleep than while you are awake. Good sleep is especially important after hard exercise, which causes more mini[1]tears in your muscles than a light workout. If you sleep too little or sleep poorly, your body can’t repair the damage. Building new muscle tissue doesn’t happen either. Eventually, tough workouts without enough sleep hurt your health.

Other Ways Sleep Helps

Lack of sleep affects more than your muscles. It can keep your body from completely refueling the stored sugars in your liver and muscle tissue. This normally happens while you sleep. You need this sugar for quick bursts of energy and to keep your blood sugar stable. Exercise causes inflammation, leading to soreness, pain, and swelling. Sleep time is when your body’s immune system goes to work treating this inflammation. Finally, when you don’t sleep well, you are less alert, making injury more likely. No matter when you work out, going to sleep and getting up at the same time every day is critical for quality rest. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

Schedule Your Workout for Better Sleep

Exercise also affects sleep. When you exercise, your muscles make substances called myokines that can help you sleep more deeply. It’s a win-win: good sleep boosts exercise and exercise improves your sleep. Can the time of day you exercise affect your sleep? Experts recommend avoiding vigorous exercise for at least an hour before bedtime. If you typically have trouble sleeping, four hours may be better. So, when should you exercise to get the best night’s sleep? It depends. Morning exercise may help you get to sleep faster at night. Afternoon or early evening workouts could help you sleep more deeply. If you wake up often, gentle exercise before bed could help you stay asleep.

Genevieve Walker, PhD is a freelance writer and editor specializing in patient education, plain language, and consumer health content. She holds a PhD in English and serves on the board of the American Medical Writers Association


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