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Exercise Recovery and Sleep



There are four sleep cycle stages, which fluctuate between non-REM and REM (Rapid Eye Movement). Sleep every 90 minutes.

The first is when you first doze off and can be easily woken. Brain patterns in this stage are associated with muscle memory and ‘logging’ movements learned during the day.

The second stage is when you enter light sleep; your brain activity slows down. The body relaxes in preparation for deep sleep and releases Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which increases muscle tissue growth and regulates the body’s metabolism.

The third stage Follows; this comes the deepest and more vital part with increased Blood supply to the muscles, more HGH is released, and this is when most growth and repair occur. The phase also supports improved immune function and boosts metabolism as well as an anti-inflammatory hormone called prolactin is also released, which is essential for joint recovery also. Minor tears in the muscle are also repaired.

The fourth stage is the REM phase, when brain activity fires up again when you’re most likely to experience dreams. Muscles are supplied with extra oxygen to break down metabolic waste during the REM phase. Lack of sleep will result in you getting painful and potentially problematic muscle knots.

Does sleeping help muscle growth?

Muscles grow when we have optimal sleep of 7 to 9 hours, which is worth treating seriously. Shortening this to 5 hours will open the door to sickness and injury.

Life stress = Body stress

We will all experience ups and downs, whether work, personal relationships, sickness, or injury. These are likely to affect sleep and strain the body and your ability to recover. See the following strategies for coping

Six tips for managing life stress and load balancing training demands

  1. Take a rest day; as obvious as it sounds, it could be the best possible strategy
  2. Delay morning training 4 hours till lunchtime or 8 hours until evening. This +4 and +8 strategy may make a difference in getting enough recovery time and keeping you sane.
  3. Split your long sessions – if you originally had a long run, swim or ride planned for the morning, where the occasion calls, suggest splitting the volume 40/60 or 60/40 depending on how you feel when to wake.
  4. Let’s talk about volume – your body has no clue what a kilometre or mile is. It is far better to measure your training based on the time at a particular perceived effort, wattage or heart rate. So don’t fall into the guilt trap of thinking you have to do X number of Kms for a specific session.
  5. Training in extreme heat or humidity – Triathletes or ultra-marathoners need to clock the time and miles to prepare for events. Let’s say you have a 6-hour ride or 4-hour run scheduled; I suggest you get an early start, beat the heat and do the first 4 hours on the bike and 3 hours on the run outdoors and then finish the remainder of the session indoors on a turbo trainer, treadmill or similar. That way, you get the volume in plus the heat acclimatisation without the negative downside of excessive dehydration and depletion of trace elements such as magnesium which will undoubtedly result in poor sleep.
  6. Exercise is beneficial for health and sleep but what turns it into poison is the dose; the dose is measured in either volume or intensity. Coach of the century Arthur Lydiard had a simple formula for athletic performance that still very much applies today – 87/9/4. 87% of your training should be strength endurance-focused at .7 to .8 of RPE, 9% at threshold and 4% at Vo2 max. Many athletes I know turn this healthy training pyramid upside down, leaving the body struggling to rest enough to recover and overloading the CNS and affecting central nervous system recovery time.

Keep it real; you will only benefit from training that you recover from.

Circadian rhythms

Circadian rhythms tie our body’s natural clocks in line with sunrise and sunset. Early to bed, early to rise goes the old proverb; adults should have a pretty consistent circadian rhythm to maximise sleep, recovery and health. Bedtimes and wake times should remain regular to maximise benefits, with the target being for 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Adults likely get sleepy after sunset as melatonin releases into their bodies. The hours before midnight are best for restorative sleep, and HGH levels are typically highest just before sunrise; therefore, it’s probably best not to have too many very early alarms during the week as you may miss some good that the hormone does boost bring.


Daytime naps are worthwhile, especially if they are 20 to 30 mins, i.e. long enough to be beneficial and short enough to not interfere with a good night’s sleep.

Monitor, track and improve.

There are many devices available today to monitor and track sleep. Seven to nine hours of sleep is optimal with 25% deep, 25% REM, and light sleep balance with no more than two toilet visits. If you fall short of these, take a look at your sleep hygiene and nutritional timing.

Sleep and weight management  – Have you ever met someone who exercises a lot, eats ok and yet can’t lose weight? Look to their sleep numbers and quality to find the reason why.

Sleep Hygiene

A cool, dark and quiet room with a comfortable mattress, pillow and bedsheets is an excellent place to start. Limiting screen time at all times before bed is also helpful. Eye masks are beneficial for overcoming electronic lights from bedroom devices.

Tools to promote sleep

Anything that down-regulates the CNS and puts the body into a parasympathetic state is worth investigating. The various compression boot and Biomat technologies have been reported to have good results in promoting sleep. They create favourable brain wave conditions to prepare the body for sleep.

Supplements such as magnesium or adding Epson salts to your favourite liquid shower soap can help, as would wind down with a calming herbal tea.

Nutrition and timing

Eating too late and eating inflammatory foods can mess with your sleep, as will drinking too much alcohol and even excessive water, so try and eat at least 2 hours before bedtime.

Sleeping for 7-9 hours per night is crucial, especially if you want to lose weight, gain muscle mass, and strength endurance. Sleep enhances muscle recovery through protein synthesis and human growth hormone release, so it should be considered important as a training session.