If you workout, you know the importance of the right fitness accessories and equipment. However, the best recovery aid isn’t a foam roller, sports drink or compression pants. In fact, the best recovery aid doesn’t cost anything except time. It’s sleep! This is the case whether you’re a beginning exerciser, regular gym rat or hardcore athlete. “Sleep is critical for rebuilding and repairing muscles and other tissues,” says Michael Grandner, PhD, MTR, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. Exercising – as well as physical day-to-day tasks like carrying groceries and climbing stairs – exposes your body to lots of wear and tear. “During sleep, we recover and prepare for the next day. For example, human growth hormone is almost exclusively released during the deepest stages of sleep,” explains Grandner. “Also, the REM stage represents the peak of protein synthesis in the brain, which helps regulate many body functions.”
Adequate pillowtime isn’t just critical for your body; it’s critical for your brain. “Sleep is also very important for memory (including muscle memory) and brain function,” says Grandner.
And it’s a must for good mental focus something you need in order to get the most out of your barre class, run, ride or anything else. Catching your Z’s and enough of them is even more important if you’re trying to slim down or maintain your weight because sleep plays a key role in regulating metabolism.
The downsides to not getting enough include a decrease in slow wave sleep, which is a time of restorative processes/healing. But that’s not all. Being tired or sleep deprived can impact your reaction time, which can possibly lead to injury during your workout, and a lower energy level, which can decrease the frequency and duration of your workouts/training, explains Fitbit Sleep Advisor Allison T. Siebern, PhD, consulting assistant professor at Stanford University Sleep Medicine Center and director of the Sleep Health Integrative Program at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center in North Carolina.
So how do you know if you’re getting enough shut-eye to support your workouts? If you fall asleep the second your head hits the pillow, it’s a sign that you are going to bed too late, says Grandner. If you wake up unrefreshed or struggling to maintain focus in the afternoon, you may not be getting enough sleep quantity or quality. It can be fragmented or shallow and you might not know it. The bottom line? Exercisers probably need more sleep than their couch potato counterparts so err on the side of more rather than less.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.