Sometimes you have to tear things down to build them back up, and that’s definitely true when it comes to muscle. The key component of gaining muscle strength is to create micro-tears in the muscle tissue. As your body repairs these tears, it fills in the tiny gaps and builds more tissue, making you stronger. For your body to have the resources to do this important repair work, it has to rest. Not active rest, but the ultimate biological rest – sleep. Your body needs a full seven to nine hours of deep, restful sleep for optimum muscle recovery.
Why You Need Sleep for Muscle Repair
Rest days are necessary for muscles to recover from tough workouts and/or injury. However, full recovery doesn’t begin until you sleep. It’s during the first of the deep sleep stages, stage III sleep, that the body releases growth hormone (GH). And, it’s GH triggers the repair of muscle tissue.
Normally, you go through five or six sleep cycles during the night, wherein you move through all five sleep stages. GH peaks during stage III of the first sleep cycle of the night. It’s still released in the other cycles but at smaller doses. If you get to bed a few hours late or don’t get enough sleep, GH doesn’t peak until the second sleep cycle and even then, it never reaches normal levels. Consequently, without enough rest, your muscle recovery gets delayed.
When you’re sleep deprived, muscle contractions are weaker and strength is compromised. Because of sleep’s permissive role in muscle recovery, you can’t skip it if you want to keep moving forward on your health journey.
More Muscle (and Better Sleep) with Good Habits
You can help your body in the recovery process by developing good habits. The food you eat and when you eat it influences your muscle recovery. During the day, it’s best to eat regularly timed and spaced meals. Your meal timing influences the 24-hour biological and physiological cycles the body uses to regulate your sleep cycle. When you eat a roughly the same time at regular intervals, you let your body adjust accordingly.
Pay special attention to what you eat before bed. A study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that protein ingested right before you go to sleep is effectively absorbed and helps stimulate muscle repair and growth. Healthy, lean forms of protein like turkey and chicken can give you a jumpstart on the healing process.
Other foods can help in the production of sleep hormones like melatonin. Foods like milk, cheese, eggs, and nuts contain tryptophan, an amino acid that contributes to melatonin production. These foods are also protein rich so you’ll double up on the health benefits.
Then, of course, there the foods that are melatonin-rich in and of themselves. Walnuts, for example, increase the blood melatonin levels in your body. Other foods like cherries, bananas, oats, and tomatoes all naturally contain melatonin and could give you a boost before bed.
Foods rich in magnesium can also help you stay asleep through the night as even a slight magnesium deficiency can cause sleep disruptions. Whole grains like bulgur and barley and almonds are great sources of magnesium that are easy to snack on before bed.
Keep in mind that if you have an underlying sleep disorder, healthy eating and good sleep habits might not work. Consult your physician if you experience excessive snoring or wake up tired even after sleeping in bed for a full seven hours. Something as simple as a mouthguard or extra pillow along with healthy habits might be what you need.
With adequate sleep and a healthy diet, you can create ideal conditions for your body to repair and strengthen itself. Plus, you’ll enjoy the energy that comes with a full night’s rest.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alicia Sanchez is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com with a specialty in health and wellness. A Nashville native, Alicia finds the sound of summer storms so soothing that she still sleeps with recorded rain on her white noise machine.