Sleep is essential to wellness. When we sleep, the body repairs itself, regenerates tissue, and maintains a healthy brain, so the more quality sleep we get, the better we feel.
The Science of Sleep and Body Recovery
We all need sleep for muscle recovery.Research has found that we experience an increase in cortisol (the stress hormone) and a decrease in growth hormone. A reduction in growth hormone can favor muscle loss, which doesn’t help muscle recovery following exercise, injuries, or muscle atrophy conditions.
Sleep is like a magic wand for pathways that we need for maintaining healthy brain cells.A study found that genes that express at higher levels during sleep are the ones that regulate maintenance of the brain. Cell proliferation typically doubles during sleep, and there is a positive correlation with time spent in REM sleep.
When we sleep, the brainprunes old connections. This pruning can help the brain make new connections, as this gives synapses time to rest and prepare to learn new things. Without pruning back at night, our minds can be overwhelmed by temporary synapses, rather than retaining only the most essential information.
How to Support Body Repairs With Healthy Sleep
Good sleep can support a healthy brain and body. Experts recommend at least seven hours of sleep each night for healthy adults, and those seven hours should be made up of quality sleep. Follow these tips to sleep better and feel better:
• Practice healthy sleep hygiene. A regular bedtime schedule and bedtime routine can make it easier to sleep well, giving our bodies a consistent expectation for sleep and reinforcing the sleep-wake cycle. Avoid heavy meals, nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol before bed.
• Add calming activities at bedtime. Stress and sleep are enemies, so when we calm down before bed, it’s easier to get to sleep. Practice yoga, take a warm bath, use aromatherapy, practice meditation, or journal before bed to go to sleep relaxed. Manage stress with organization, prioritization, and stress relief practices.
• Sleep in a healthy environment. Bedrooms should be conducive to sleep. We need a sleep environment that is dark, quiet, cool, and comfortable, with appropriate bedding. Mattress reviews may help you determine if you’re sleeping on the right kind of bed for your weight, temperature preferences, and sleeping position. Keep electronics out of the bedroom, and use blackout curtains, a fan, or white noise machine if needed.
• Stay active during the day. Daily physical activity can support better sleep, especially if it’s outside. However, be careful not to exercise intensely too close to bedtime, as exercise can be stimulating and make it difficult to fall asleep.
• Avoid excessive or late naps. Napping is good for catching up on sleep or finding more energy during the day. But naps after 3 p.m. can interfere with healthy sleep at night, and so can naps longer than 30 minutes.
Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.