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Sleep and Muscle Recovery: Making Your Rest Work for You

Mar 15, 2022

You know that you’re working hard when you’re training. Whether you lift weights, play sports, take group classes, or participate in another form of exercise, it’s important to give your all.

But you may be surprised to learn—how you recover matters just as much as how you work out, and it’s important that you optimize your rest so that your muscles can come back strong the next time you’re ready to exercise.

Your Muscles During A Workout

You know the feeling of pushing yourself to the next level during a workout, and you know the soreness that’s likely to come the next day, especially if you’re using your muscle groups in a new way.

A few different things happen when your muscles grow and strengthen. Tiny tears can occur in muscle fibers, and the repair of these fibers causes the muscle to get stronger. The body also releases lactic acid when you’re working anaerobically, meaning your body’s need for oxygen during your workout exceeds what you’re able to take in. According to Scientific American, lactic acid buildup is not responsible for muscle soreness, rather, it’s a part of the body’s natural defense mechanism that prevents muscle overwork.

Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is a common phenomenon in which muscle soreness occurs and/or persists days after a tough workout. Exercise physiologists aren’t completely sure what causes DOMS, but hypothesize that it’s likely a combination of muscle tears and the release of metabolites to repair these tears. Usually, DOMS subsides after a few days, and the intensity of DOMS depends on the intensity of muscle damage that has occurred.

Preventing Soreness and Boosting Recovery

The faster your muscles are able to recover, the better you’ll feel (and the faster you’ll be able to get back into the gym for your next workout). Thankfully, there are steps that you can take to help speed up the muscle recovery process.

According to many exercise scientists and personal trainers, recovery is the most important part of any fitness program. After you complete your workout, it’s important that you take your time to stretch. Your personal trainer may work with you on a specific stretching program to correct muscle imbalances and meet your post-workout needs.

In addition to stretching, you’ll also want to properly hydrate following your workout. There’s no need to drink an electrolyte solution (like a sports drink) unless you’re exercising at a high intensity for an hour or more. As long as your workouts are less than 60 minutes, plain water is sufficient for your hydration needs.

What you eat after your workout matters as well. After you finish exercising, eat a small snack that contains both protein and carbohydrates. Do your best to eat within 30 minutes of finishing your workout to rebuild muscle stores and replenish glycogen (stored carbohydrates) and energy reserves. Our cells are more sensitive to insulin following exercise, so glucose can more easily be stored as glycogen for the future. If you can’t snack within half an hour post-workout, don’t panic. As long as you eat within two hours, you can still get some of the restorative benefits that food has to offer.

While all of these tips can support muscle growth and recovery, sleep is king when it comes to giving your body the support it needs after exercise. Here, we’ll take a look at everything you need to know about why sleep matters—and how to get more of it.

Why Sleep Matters

When you’re working out, your muscles undergo micro-traumas. As tiny tears occur, your body goes to work, releasing chemicals necessary to begin the repair process.

Getting high quality sleep is one of the best things you can do to help support your body’s drive to repair muscle tears.

Both the quantity and quality of your sleep matter. The exact amount of sleep needed will depend on the individual. As you begin to pay attention to how sleep affects your recovery, make it a point to notice how much sleep you personally need to feel your best. While the general guideline of eight hours of sleep per night is a good starting point for most people, you may need more or less sleep depending on your stress level, genetics, and other factors.

You may note that different workouts require different amounts of sleep for recovery. A long, intense cardio session (like a training run for a marathon) will likely require more sleep for muscle recovery than a short HIIT session. While going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day is recommended, it’s smart to squeeze in an extra hour or two if you need to recover from a particularly intense workout.

Creating a Better Sleep Environment

Once you know the amount of sleep you need to thrive, it’s time to create the best environment possible for rest. Follow these tips to help create the serene, relaxing environment you need to maximize your rest—and help your muscles get stronger, faster.

Tip #1: Cut the caffeine.

We get it—coffee can help you get through long days, but it can also negatively impact the quality of your sleep. You don’t necessarily need to cut out caffeine, but try eliminating it after 2 pm and see if you notice a difference in your sleep. If you still find that your sleep quality isn’t as good as you’d like, you may want to eliminate caffeine altogether.

Tip #2: Set the scene.

It’s important to make your bedroom the ideal environment for rest. Keep your bedroom comfortably cool, and fight the urge to scroll through your phone or tablet before you fall asleep. Diffusing lavender oil through your bedroom can help you drift off to dreamland, as can establishing a purposeful nighttime routine that mentally indicates it’s time for rest.

Tip #3: Back up dinner.

After a stressful day, it can be tempting to root through the pantry for a nighttime snack, but your sleep will thank you if you go to bed on a somewhat empty stomach. Digestion is work, and going to bed with an overly full belly can disrupt your sleep. Aim to finish eating two to three hours before you go to bed, and be sure that your dinner contains at least one serving of protein.

Ready Get Your Muscles Moving? We’ve Got You.

Fitness Together personal trainers will provide you with the individualized workout you need to move your health and wellness forward. The private studios allow you to get the one-on-one attention that you need, without any of the pressure you might feel working out in a big-box gym. Reach out to us today to learn more about how we can help you achieve your fitness goals.


Schedule a complimentary fit evaluation so we can get to know you and your goals and build you a customized training program to reach them.