People often say their muscles are “tired” after a long workout. While that’s an oversimplification of a complex process, the truth is that sleeping does aid in muscle recovery. If your muscles (and the rest of you) are sleep-deprived, your muscles recover slowly from use and injury. Getting adequate rest may even help you avoid muscle damage in the first place. Sleeping at least seven hours per night is essential to improving your body and overall wellbeing.
The Science of Muscle Recovery
Muscles use different chemicals to heal themselves, and some of these chemicals are only released during the deepest stages of sleep. Growth Factor-1 aids in regenerating tissues, but it’s only released during sleep. A study also hypothesized that the pathways that convert protein to muscle are less active if you’re sleep-deprived. Rebuilding normal wear and tear on your muscles does require a full night’s sleep.
Recovering from Injuries
If you’ve injured your back or leg, you know that these injuries can take a long time to heal. However, sleeping at least seven hours per night may help the recovery process. A study on rats showed that they were less able to recover from muscle injuries when they had been deprived of sleep. Since some of the healing is done while you sleep, it makes sense that you don’t heal as fast if you’re not resting adequately.
Napping to Avoid Injury
Getting enough sleep may also help you avoid injury in the first place. A study that analyzed preschool-aged children noted that the number of accidental falls increased when the kids got less than eight hours of sleep at night. Napping may help. Although naps don’t often reach the deep levels of sleep that you get at night, they still may aid in reducing the risk of accidents.
Steps for Improving Your Sleep
Help your body recover from both injury and daily use by improving your sleep habits and sleeping environment.
Consider setting yourself a bedtime. Although many people believe that bedtimes are for kids, having a reliable schedule for getting to sleep benefits people of all ages. Going to bed at the same time each night helps align your circadian rhythm, an internal “clock” that controls many different processes in your body. This biological clock starts to recognize when you are supposed to get tired and releases melatonin, a sleep hormone. It also may be easier to get up in the morning if you get enough sleep each night.
Develop a routine before going to sleep. Like the regular bedtime, a consistent pattern before bed will help signal your brain that it’s time to sleep. A warm bath and reading a book are calming activities to include. However, reading the news on your favorite electronic device may not be a good choice. The blue wavelength light emitted from electronic devices may suppress melatonin release for hours. Turn off devices at least an hour before bed to start feeling sleepy when it’s appropriate.
Another way to sleep better is to minimize distractions in the bedroom. Light can be disruptive to sleep. Blackout curtains can be used to block out nighttime light pollution for those that live in cities. Some people are more sensitive to sounds. While a new innerspring mattress shouldn’t make any disruptive sounds, if you’re noticing squeaking or creaking when you turn over at night, check your mattress and bedframe and consider replacing the noisy culprit with a newer model. A white noise machine or phone app is also a cheap way to diminish the intrusiveness of sounds. Try not to let any light, noise or other distraction interfere with getting the rest you need.
If you take steps to improve your sleep habits, you may see a reduction in muscle soreness. Sleeping helps you to recover from injury and muscle use. It’s a central part of a healthy lifestyle.
Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.