Kim on Why Sleep is Vital to Muscle Recovery

By Kim Barnard

Not many people know that during a workout you are actually breaking down your muscles. In particular, when you do strength training or lift weights, the muscle fibers are broken down and will tear. It is the repairing of these small tears that creates stronger muscles.

Sleep is the most important time for your body to recover as it has a profound effect on muscle growth and physical well being. Enough sleep aids mental health, hormonal balance and muscular recovery.

The recommended amount of sleep is seven to nine hours however this is based upon an individual’s lifestyle, exercise and genetics. Research suggests that sleep deprivation increases the level of the stress hormone cortisol as well as causing a decrease in the production of glycogen and carbohydrates that are stored for energy use during physical activity. Basically, sleep deprivation means lower energy levels!

While you sleep your energy consumption is lowered allowing you to convert the food you consume during the day in order to efficiently build muscle. During sleep the growth hormone is produced and protein synthesis occurs, improving muscular recovery and regeneration. The growth hormone is usually secreted during early sleep when the deepest stage of sleep occurs.

There are five stages to the sleep cycle. These stages progress from stage one to the rapid eye movement (REM) stage and then start again. A complete cycle will take an average of 90 to 110 minutes. The first sleep cycle has a relatively short REM stage. The longer periods of deep sleep later in the night have longer REM periods and shorter deep sleep time.

Sleep stages

Stage One: tends to be light sleep where you will drift in and out of sleep and be easily awoken. During this stage, your eyes and muscle activity slows down.

Stage Two: during this stage your eye movement ceases and the brain waves slow down. There will be occasional bursts of rapid brain waves during this stage.

Stage Three and Four: during stage three extremely slow brain waves called delta waves are interspersed with shorter, fast waves. When sleep moves into stage four it is almost exclusively delta waves. Delta sleep is the deepest point of sleep and therefore the hardest point to wake a sleeper.

REM Sleep Stage: The most active stage of sleep, known as REM, accounts for 20-25% of a night’s sleep. This is the time when dreams can occur. The majority of people experience three to five REM cycles during a night’s sleep.

Young children can spend almost 50% of their time in REM sleep whereas adults can spend about 20% in REM. Older adults will spend progressively less time in this stage.

During the REM stage, your breathing, heart rate and brain activity will quicken. This is the stage at which the body restores organs, bones and tissue, replenishes immune cells and circulates the growth hormone.

Therefore, when you don’t have enough sleep you will not complete the sleep stages required for muscle repair and recovery. So if you’re getting less than the recommended amount of sleep then the chances are that you’re not benefiting from all that hard work at the gym.

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