Facts about Sleep and Muscle Recovery

October 18, 2017


In a society where the ultimatum between sleep and success is implied, why would we sacrifice time to snooze?  Especially when we feel it’s a waste of time?  We have all heard that sleep is supposed to help us look better, think better, and be in a better mood.  We know some of these “benefits” yet we still aren’t quite motivated to make it a priority.  Sleep is also primetime for muscle growth and recovery, not an obligatory "time out" that has no significance in our daily functioning.  What really is happening when we sleep and why is it so crucial?  Get to know some facts about sleep that might help you value catching some Zzz's.  Get motivated to treat sleep like part of your job: learn to respect sleep and how it fuels your day, your workout, and your recovery. 

“Get at least 8 hours of beauty sleep.”  There’s something to what Betty White is saying!  We have heard of “beauty sleep” for ages, but is there something really to it?  While enough sleep doesn’t change your features, it can help with what you’ve got.  A study was done at University of Michigan with patients who struggled with sleep apnea and disrupted sleep as a side effect.  Pictures were taken before and after several months of treatment for their sleep apnea with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine.  Photogrammetry, a technique used by surgeons for face mapping that is “capable of measuring tiny differences in facial contours, (Sleep Better 2017)” was used as a means to objectively measure the subject.  Before and after photos were correctly identified 2/3 of the time by raters and said that “the patients in the post-treatment photos looked more alert, more youthful and more attractive. (Sleep Better 2017)”  The study was prompted when sleep apnea patients noticed an improvement in their appearance, either by themselves or others (Sleep Better 2017). 

While we might not notice just how sharp we feel when we get enough sleep or our quicker reaction times, we know there are consequences for not getting enough.  Think of Chernobyl and the Space Shuttle Challenger- studies show that poor judgement as a result of sleep deprivation were the culprits in these disastrous events (Russell Foster 2017).  While we might not think our side effects of sleep deprivation are as impactful as a nuclear plant disaster, we need to take notice.  Julie Kirby wrote “Change the World and Get to Bed by 10:00” in the Harvard Business Review as a call to action to corporate leaders to change “today’s dysfunctional culture around sleep (Change the World 2017).”  Knowing anecdotally that sleep is important isn’t enough to convince us to shut off our laptops and leave it for the next day.  Julie uses some compelling data to drive the point home.  Take a look at how sleep deprivation stacks up against impairment from alcohol consumption.

 tips on how to sleep through the night 

While we may mean well by burning the candle at both ends, we really are doing more harm than good.  Many of us go to work “drunk,” recovering from the night before of insufficient sleep.  For many we don’t even remember what it’s like to get enough sleep and to be sleep “sober.” 

Another facet of self care that is first to be neglected when we have a deadline fast approaching or work is bogging us down is our mental health.  There’s a strong association with sleep and our emotional and mental health.  We know sleep improves our mood, and we DEFINITELY know a lack of sleep sours it.  What does this really mean, though?  Sleep disruption is associated with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.  In some of these cases sleep disruption is a precursor to mental illness or it exacerbates a current mental illness. “Traditionally, clinicians treating patients with psychiatric disorders have viewed insomnia and other sleep disorders as symptoms. But studies in both adults and children suggest that sleep problems may raise risk for, and even directly contribute to, the development of some psychiatric disorders (Sleep and Mental Health 2017).”  Sleep dysfunction also inhibits the effectiveness of treatments for these psychological disorders (Sleep and Mental Health 2017). 

In addition to these well-known effects are the effects of sleep on muscular system and body.  How are sleep and muscle recovery related?  Have you heard or even told clients yourself how important rest is for their body to recover after a tough workout?  Rest isn’t just when we are not exerting energy; it’s when we are asleep that our bodies are truly at rest enabling proper muscle recovery.  What does this mean?  When we are asleep several things happen.  Many hormones are working to build and repair muscle.  Some of these hormones are insulin-like growth factor-1, testosterone, and growth hormone (REM Sleep 2017) which are huge players in muscle recovery.  “In skeletal muscle, IGF-1 stimulates the synthesis of new proteins and inhibits excessive autophagy/apoptosis, resulting in hypertrophy (REM Sleep 2017).” 

So what happens to our muscle recovery without sleep?  Sleep deprivation inhibits all of these processes and enters into a catabolic state resulting in less muscle regeneration.  This means not only will injuries heal slower but your gains in the gym will be affected.  Sleep and muscle growth go hand-in-hand.  Still think sleep is for the birds?  Lack of sleep affects our Stress & Stress Threshold, too.  It ultimately lowers our stress threshold which in turn makes us susceptible to injuries and lessens our ability to heal those injuries.  Injuries themselves can also prevent quality sleep (The Physiology of Sleep 2017).  Nagging pain and discomfort can keep us up, distracted, and disrupt normal sleep. We've all been there- you can't quite get in a comfortable position and are worried when the pain will subside.  Taking care of your body in order to get good sleep takes care of your body!  It's the cycle of self care.   

 tips on how to sleep through the night

 Now that we understand the value of enough, quality sleep, how do we balance that with the other 2/3 of our day?  Here are some tips to keep your mind and body healthy, efficient, and at its best!

  • Scientists recommend sleeping at about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping the temperature too hot interferes with temperature fluctuations in the body associated with our sleep cycle (National Sleep Foundation 2017).
  • Limit electronics before bedtime. Electronics like phones, TVs, tablets, and computers emit blue light.  Blue wavelengths are what is emitted by the sun to trigger the wake time of the sleep cycle.  When the sun is up we are wakened by the suppression of melatonin, a hormone that tells our body it's time to sleep.  Exposure to blue light inhibits the production of melatonin in the body, which helps ease us to sleep.   Inhibition of melatonin at night due to blue wavelengths from electronics affects our ability to fall asleep and even delays the phase shift in our sleep cycle (Duffy 2017).  Can’t stay away from electronics before bed?  You can get blue-light minimizing apps for your phone or computer that filter blue light thus decreasing the havoc it can wreak on your sleep schedule.  
  • Get blue light therapy when you wake up and throughout the day. Exposure to this same blue light (that we are supposed to avoid at night) mimics what the sun does by inhibiting the production of melatonin. “In 2008, researchers improved alertness and productivity in office workers by switching out their standard fluorescent white overhead lights for blue-enriched white lights.  Blue-exposed workers performed better, which was expected, but they also slept better at night (which undoubtedly helped performance) (Blue Light 2017).” 
  • Keep your bedroom as quiet as possible throughout the night. Leaving a TV on while you sleep not only emits blue wavelengths which we know can disrupt sleep, but the sounds also disturb sleep by stimulating the brain (National Sleep Foundation 2017).  If you can manage keep the TV out of the bedroom or at least limit usage before bedtime. 
  • The toughest one: just go to sleep! The above tips help you maximize the sleep you do get, but there’s no replacement for the 7-9 hours of recommended sleep per night.  Prioritize sleep like it’s a job.  Block it off of your schedule and know that’s the best use of your time in the short- and long-run.  After a good night of sleep you’ll awake refreshed, rejuvenated, and ultimately more efficient at whatever it is that you were tempted to stay up for.
  • As mentioned, in order to get optimal sleep we should be pain and discomfort free.  When it comes to taking care of your body, healing from injuries, or correcting Compensating Movements to get your best sleep, MAT® could be the solution.  We look at the root of the problem and not just the symptoms themselves.  By assessing and correcting your muscular system you could increase the effectiveness of your sleep.  Keep your days active and your nights restful!

 You can still work your tail off and take care of yourself.  There is time to take care of yourself and to work efficiently toward your goals.  It takes 2-3 days to recover from severe sleep deprivation (Recovery Sleep 2017).  I just downloaded a sleep app and am challenging myself to get 8 hours of sleep per night for 3 days- that's doable, right?  Join in the challenge and see how your body is made to feel and operate with adequate sleep!