The average adult needs to seven to eight hours of sleep for full body restoration. But many people view rest as optional rather than as a necessary biological function. When running on a time deadline, the first thing to be sacrificed is sleep. Sometimes sleep loss isn’t a choice. Stress, anxiety, or life circumstances can also get in the way of a good night’s rest. Without a full night’s sleep, the body enters a state of sleep deprivation, wherein everything from reasoning abilities to appetite control degrade. Sleep is also essential for muscle recovery and injury prevention.
Adequate sleep is needed for far more than keeping the eyes open during the day. The body goes to work repairing and building muscles during the deepest stage of sleep, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. If this deepest stage isn’t reached or enough time spent in REM sleep, the muscles cannot fully recover. The body cycles through five sleep stages throughout the night, but REM sleep is always the last stage in the cycle, making it the first to be skipped with short sleep duration.
Muscle cells need to increase in volume and size to fully repair and heal. However, sleep deprivation slows the release of the chemicals necessary for growth. Without sleep, the muscle cannot regenerate itself at a regular rate, opening the door for a chronic injury or increased muscle damage.
High-quality sleep improves muscle recovery and helps prevent injury. For most people, upping their sleep requires focusing on good sleep hygiene, which includes all of the habits and behaviors that affect the quantity and quality of sleep. For others, it may take further interventions such as acupuncture, meditation, or yoga.
It’s not only about spending seven hours in bed but reaching and spending enough time in all of the sleep stages, especially REM sleep. A comfortable bed helps you get there. Many people don’t realize how to match their mattresses to their needs. A mattress that works for a heavy person or someone who sleeps on their stomach might not work for a light person who sleeps on her side. Even the temperature in the bedroom can affect the body’s ability to reach all sleep stages. A well-balanced diet, plenty of activity, and time spent in natural sunlight are all ways to support healthy sleep.
Other positive sleep behaviors include going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time each morning. The body controls the sleep-wake cycle with 24-hour biological and physiological cycles called circadian rhythms. A consistent sleep schedule helps the body follow natural circadian rhythms for the correctly timed release of sleep hormones. For those who have trouble falling asleep, a relaxing bedtime routine that includes yoga, meditation, or reading a book works well to signal the brain to sleep.
Some activities can get in the way of good sleep. For example, watching television before bed can actually delay the onset of sleep by suppressing the release of melatonin, a sleep hormone. However, turning screens off at least two to three hours before bedtime can prevent this delays. Stimulants like caffeine can block melatonin and should be avoided for the four hours before bed.
Some people may need more than good sleep hygiene to get the rest they need. Other natural methods like acupuncture have not only been shown to reduce stress and anxiety but increase the release of melatonin.
Developing healthy habits and using natural remedies to reduce stress and improve sleep quality can support muscle recovery.
Special thanks to Ellie Porter, Managing Editor of SleepHelp.org for this contributed article.