Fitness and Performance

Understanding the relationship between sleep and muscle recovery

Jan 28 2017

How important is sleep?

It is something most of us would agree we need more of, but how important do you think sleep is to your health? A healthy human adult will spend around one-third of their life sleeping, and it’s during this time that both mental and physical recovery occurs. We are all familiar with the mental effects from lack of sleep, with a sluggish morning and that much-needed cup of coffee to get you through the front door, however the physical problems associated with a lack of sleep can be slightly less obvious.

We treat plenty of patients who frequently take part in sport or exercise at the gym and are looking to ensure they are getting both the rest and recuperation their body needs to perform. To help them find the right balance of rest and activity, it’s vital to understand the relationship between sleep and muscle recovery.

How much sleep do we need?

No two people are exactly the same, and this certainly holds true when it comes to sleep.  Each individual requires a different amount of sleep, however research has consistently shown that most adults do need the much-quoted 8 hours of sleep per night to perform at their best. Due to the importance of sleep for muscle recovery, athletes need even more rest with 9-10 hours of sleep required to aid muscular recovery from the extra load.

Sleep and muscle recovery – what’s the link?

Sleep is regarded as one of the most important factors when it comes to physical recovery, especially if you are exercising. It is during this time when 95% of growth hormone (a key building block in muscle recovery) is released, allowing you to ease those aches and pains and continue through training. Sleep is not only essential for recovery, it can even prevent you getting injured in the first place! Studies have shown that you are 2.5x more likely to sustain a workplace injury if you get less than 5 hours sleep per night, and 1.4x more likely if you are getting between 6 and 7 hours sleep.

How can we get the right amount of sleep?

The average adult tends to sleep an average of 6 hours and 40 minutes per day, which leaves most of us with a bit of making up to do in the sleep department. Around a quarter of us use alcohol medications to get to sleep, however, what is the best way to doze off and make sure you are getting the most out of your sleep?

One of the main problems to tackle in the modern day is a poor sleep environment and pre-sleep habits.

Pre-sleep habits to look out for

  • Using phones, laptops, and watching TV before bed can decrease melatonin levels (the chemical released to aid sleep) and increase alertness, making it harder to fall asleep.
  • Sleep medications may help in the short term, however, prolonged use can disrupt sleep cycles.
  • Although many people use alcohol as a way to get to sleep, it actually has a negative effect by disrupting the stages of sleep, which in term disrupts the production of hormones required for recovery.
  • Exercising during the day can be a good way to tire the body making it easier to sleep, however exercise too late in the evening can have the opposite effect.

So, remember to put down your phones early, let your head hit the pillow and rest up. As we can see, the strong relationship between sleep and muscle recovery highlights how just how beneficial a restful slumber can be. It could help you to recover faster, or prevent you from the injury in the first place!


Article by Jack Brown, Chartered Physiotherapist at Bodyset