When it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle, people usually focus on following a nutritious diet, regularly exercising, and properly hydrating. These are all healthy habits, but it’s common for one of the healthiest to be overlooked: sleep.
It’s important not to disregard this time you spend with your head on the pillow as it is vital for our overall health, specifically our recovery. Quality sleep gives the body the opportunity to recover by helping it grow, re-energise, and repair.
Sleep doesn’t just provide physical recovery but aids our minds in recovering and helps us maintain good mental health. Understanding how sleep assists recovery can help us get our sleeping patterns in order and motivate us to make sleep a priority.
The benefits of sleep for physical recovery
It’s long been said that sleep is the cheapest medicine when it comes to physical recovery, and this is certainly true. Sleep is vital for recovery from sports and injuries whilst also helping your body repair itself from the demands of everyday life.
When it comes to ‘good’ sleep, we consider this to be, for adults, 7-8 hours of uninterrupted shut-eye. For more information on why this is the peak time for adults to be sleeping, check out our guide to how much sleep you need.
Here are the four main benefits of sleep for physical recovery:
1. Enhanced muscle repair and growth
When you nod off, your body produces its growth hormones. These are essential for repairing and building muscles. With quality sleep, you give your body more time to undergo the necessary processes for muscle recovery, leading to improved strength, endurance, and overall physical performance.
For more advice on how to improve muscle growth, head to our fitness page.
2. Immune system improvements
When you get the flu, a cold, or any other type of illness, you can often feel weak and sometimes can’t physically bring yourself to get out of bed. Quality sleep can play a vital role in lowering your chances of this by supporting and strengthening your immune system.
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During sleep, your body produces and releases cytokines, a type of protein that helps fight infections and inflammation. Sufficient sleep enhances the amount of these released, improving your immune system's ability to respond effectively to pathogens and aiding in the recovery process from illnesses.
3. Higher energy and lower fatigue
After exercise or a long day, you will be physically tired. To solve this, sleep. It sounds simple, and it is. Adequate sleep helps replenish energy stores and reduces fatigue. During sleep, your body restores glycogen, a form of energy stored in muscles, which gets depleted throughout the day. Quality sleep also regulates hormones like cortisol, which affects your energy levels and reduces feelings of exhaustion.
4. Injury healing
‘Make sure to rest it’ - we’ve all heard that from our parents or the doctor when we’re injured, and for good reason. The best kind of rest is sleep which can help improve your injuries by repairing and regenerating damaged tissues.
When you're asleep, your body directs resources toward the healing process, such as increased blood flow to injured areas. Quality sleep promotes faster recovery from injuries, including sprains, strains, and post-surgical healing.
5 benefits of sleep for mental recovery
It isn’t just your body that gets worn out by day-to-day activities but your brain as well. Luckily, sleep doesn’t just have a great impact on physical recovery but also helps you mentally recover, here’s how:
1. Improved cognitive function
Cognitive function includes processes which your brain is in charge of, including your attention, concentration, memory consolidation, and problem-solving. When you sleep well, your brain processes and stores information better. This leads to improved learning, better decision-making, and enhanced performance.
2. Improved mood and emotional regulation
We all know the feeling of being tired and then instantly becoming more irritable and less patient. This is because we’re lacking sleep (obviously). Sufficient sleep is closely linked to better mood regulation and emotional well-being.
Lack of sleep is a big contributor to irritability, mood swings, and increased susceptibility to stress, anxiety, and depression. Quality sleep helps stabilise these emotions, regulate mood, and increase resilience to emotional challenges.
Find out about how to improve your mood at the start of the day with our guide to creating a morning routine to boost your mood.
3. Reduced tiredness and increased productivity
It might sound obvious, but good sleep reduces tiredness which has a positive impact on your productivity. Having good sleep helps combat mental fatigue and supports optimal brain function.
When you're well-rested, you can think more clearly, focus better, and sustain attention for longer periods. Quality sleep also helps to boost mental energy, creativity, and productivity, enabling you to perform at your best in cognitive tasks and daily activities.
For other tips on reducing how tired you feel, see our guide on tackling tiredness.
4. Reduced stress
Quality sleep is crucial for managing stress. During sleep, your body releases stress hormones (such as cortisol) and rebalances neurotransmitters involved in stress response. This means sufficient sleep helps lower stress levels, improves coping mechanisms, and enhances your ability to deal with challenging situations effectively.
For more methods to help you reduce stress, see our guide on how to lower your stress levels.
5. Better overall mental health
Quality sleep plays a significant role in maintaining good mental health and overall well-being. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of developing mental health disorders such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and even psychotic symptoms. On the other hand, quality sleep promotes emotional stability and psychological resilience and contributes to a positive mental state.
If you want more expert tips and recommendations, check out our page on sleep, which includes guides on breathing exercises for a better sleep, the best eye masks for sleeping, the best white noise machines and the best bed sheets according to experts.
Finn Byrne is a Digital Writer for Immediate Media. He works across several brands including The Recommended, RadioTimes.com, MadeforMums and BBC Gardeners’ World. Finn has previously written for publications including MyLondon, The Mirror, The Express, and The Star. When not writing Finn enjoys spending time on the football pitch and getting stuck into a book.