Woman holding a pillow in front of her with a sleep mask on with text that says sleep plays an important role in workout recovery

Sleep Plays an Important Role In Workout Recovery. Here’s What You Need to Know.

Do you take time to recover after you workout? Whether you’re doing a low-impact Pilates workout or a high-intensity circuit, your body needs adequate time to recover, rest, and reset. Drinking enough water, eating the right combination of protein and carbs, stretching, and foam rolling are all important parts of a workout recovery process, but research has shown that even if you’re doing all of that, your efforts won’t be fully rewarded if you aren’t also getting enough, or good enough, sleep.

How Sleep Impacts the Workout Recovery Process

Sleep plays an important role in workout recovery because it gives your muscles time to repair themselves from the stress incurred during exercise. Specifically, it’s during the dreamless sleep state (what we call Stage 3 of non-rapid eye movement or NREM) that your body produces Growth Hormone, an anabolic hormone that repairs tissues. The longer this period of sleep is, the more time your muscle tissues have to repair themselves. On the other hand, when you don't get enough sleep, you experience a shortened or interrupted dreamless sleep cycle, and your body quite literally doesn't have enough time to produce the anabolic hormones it needs for tissue repair. 

Without going too deep into a science lesson here, the hormones that aid in muscle growth and control inflammation are also produced when you sleep, so it’s harder for your muscles to grow when you aren’t getting enough sleep or fight off swelling, soreness, or pain.

Plus, if you’re exercising intently over long periods of time, your body may likely need more rest than the average person because it’s enduring more stress. While 8 hours of sleep per night is often recommended for the average person, you may need to get more hours. Some professional athletes have been said to sleep for 10 to 12 hours per night! 

Here are a few things you can do to get better sleep: 

  • Schedule high-intensity workouts on days when you plan to get a full night of sleep. Opt for a low-impact workout like Pilates on days when your normal sleep routine may be disturbed (like attending a concert with friends). Taking your plans and overall lifestyle into account when choosing workouts will better support you in achieving your fitness goals and help you feel your best. 
  • Develop a nighttime routine to help your body prepare for a great night of sleep. Giving yourself enough time to wind down physically, emotionally, and mentally will improve the quality of your sleep, helping you feel more rested the next day, as well as for days to come.
If you’ve never had a nighttime routine before, it might take you a while to find what works for you and your body. Treat yourself with compassion during this process, remember it’s about making incremental improvements (not stressing yourself out trying to find the absolutely perfect nighttime routine), and focus on enjoying the process. Keeping a journal near your bed in which you jot down a few notes about what you did the night before and how it impacted your sleep can help you along this process. 
  • Create a physical environment that supports high-quality, restful sleep. External environmental factors, like the temperature in the room and the amount of light, signal our body to react in a specific way. If your bedroom is too bright or too hot, it will be harder for your body to drift into a peaceful sleep and stay there. Make adjustments to ensure your bedroom is as conducive to sleep as possible, including keeping the room cool, dark, and quiet. Using a soft, silky sleep mask (we like this one from Brooklinen), wearing earplugs, and investing in a quiet fan can help. It’s also a good idea to charge your phone and other electronics in another room and place your clock out of view if possible. 


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