There is an important connection between sleep and muscle recovery which is very often the neglected puzzle of our healthy lifestyle.
Nutrition, goal setting, timing, supplements, exercise sequencing, rest days — these are the aspects of fitness that get the most attention.
If something isn’t working or we aren’t reaching our goals, we’re more likely than not to blame one of these things.
Everyday fitness struggles include difficulty focusing, low energy and endurance, plateauing, not gaining muscle, insatiable hunger and cravings, and injuries.
And while the cause of the problem may seem obvious at first, we’re here to talk about a lesser-known factor critical to physical health. Your sleep.
The role sleep plays for muscle recovery
Exercise zaps energy, fluids, and breaks muscle down. Many athletes and gym-goers may make the mistake of thinking that focusing on rest days, stretching, refueling, and foam rolling will check off the box when it comes to recovery, but those things are far from adequate.
Studies show that poor sleep leads to a host of issues that have a direct impact on fitness performance.
These consequences include difficulty losing weight or weight gain, lower immune-system response, and impaired thinking.
Studies prove that the connection between sleep and muscle recovery is as important as eating healthy.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who got less than an optimal amount of sleep consumed an excess of 300 calories a day.
Sleep regulates our hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin, and when sleep-deprived, your leptin levels decrease, making you feel more hungry even after you’ve eaten. At the same time, ghrelin increases which stimulates your appetite.
“Sleep Like A Champion” infographic by casper.com
It’s also been found that sleep deprivation may cause a decrease in protein synthesis, meaning your body’s ability to make muscle suffers, and an increase in injury incidents.
Another study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that athletes with poor sleep experienced more confusion, higher stress, and poorer moods. This guide to promo code for iHerb allows you to buy the best natural remedies for better sleep.
Even further, poor sleep decreases glycogen storage (especially in stages 3 and 4) and testosterone (especially during REM), meaning less fuel and strength for optimal function. And the list for the connection between sleep and muscle recovery goes on.
To summarize the heavy-hitters, poor sleep causes:
- Decreased energy;
- Impaired strength;
- Slower metabolism;
- Increased hunger;
- Poor reaction time;
- Decreased muscle repair;
- Impaired memory.
3 Strategies to improve the connection between sleep and muscle recovery
On the flip side of that coin, making sure to get adequate amounts of quality sleep can go a long way to improving your performance and overall physical health.
According to Fatigue Science’s comprehensive article summarizing scientific research, good sleep produces the following good results:
- Improved reaction times;
- Reduced injury rates;
- Longer athletic careers;
- Improved accuracy;
- Faster sprint times;
- Fewer mental errors;
- Improved overall health.
But what does good sleep look like and how can we make sure we’re getting it? Here are a few ways to improve your chances of catching those crucial zzz’s.
1) Buy a better bed
One of the top causes of sleep deprivation is a factor well within our control: the very environment we’re sleeping in.
What could be more important to your sleep and your sleep environment than the mattress you’re sleeping on?
It turns out that we should be replacing our mattress every 5-7 years, or at the first signs of wear since a quickly-degrading mattress means less support and less comfort, two big sleep thieves.
The Ergonomics Research Group, for example, found a number of benefits to sleeping on a comfortable mattress. Even further, there is strong evidence that points to the importance of the very design and materials of your mattress.
One review of the research shows that a mattress made with supportive, temperature-controlled foam layers promotes proper spinal alignment, therefore supporting quality sleep.
It’s also important that the materials are hypoallergenic so as not to cause allergies or sinus issues while sleeping.
The National Sleep Foundation also recommends that for those who are very active and often experiencing muscle pain or soreness, the best option is a memory foam mattress.
We recommend checking out Casper’s mattresses, which are said to increase airflow and properly support the back and entire body’s line of pressure points.
2) Stick to a sleep schedule
Just like you stick to your gym routine, establish a bedtime routine that you follow both on weekdays and weekends.
Sleeping in on the weekends actually sets the foundation for a lot of sleep issues because of its impact on your natural circadian rhythms.
In other words, waking up later leads to a delayed exposure to daylight and reduces your sleep drive, making it more difficult for you to fall asleep at an appropriate time when Sunday night rolls around.
This sleep delay causes fatigue, a lack of alertness, and negative performance.
In addition to setting a strict sleep and wake time, factor in a winding down routine that includes turning technology off, avoiding caffeine, and relaxation techniques such as meditation.
Speaking of meditation: this probably isn’t the first time you’ve been advised to seek more mindful moments, but the science doesn’t lie.
According to a study conducted by Harvard scientists, meditation can help you get the restful sleep you need.
The study’s participants included 49 middle-aged and older adults who reported a history of difficulty sleeping.
One half of the group participated in a meditation program designed to help them focus on “moment-by-moment experiences, thoughts, and emotions.”
The rest of the group took a sleep education seminar that taught them better sleep habits.
At the end of the study, those who participated in the meditation program experienced less insomnia, fatigue, and depression than those in the sleep education program.
According to Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine, “Mindfulness meditation is just one of a smorgasbord of techniques that evoke the relaxation response,” which is a term he coined in the 70s to define the body’s physiological change that’s opposite of the stress response.
According to Benson, sleep disorders are highly correlated to stress, and the relaxation response can ease depression, pain, and high blood pressure.
As for a meditation routine, he recommends practicing 20 minutes a day. If you need a little help, we love the Buddhify meditation app, and many other meditation apps are being made every day.