How To Prioritise Sleep For Muscle Recovery

When clients talk to personal trainers about post-exercise recovery, their first thought tends to be about sports nutrition or protein for muscle repair. However, one of the most important elements of post-exercise recovery is sleep.

As a personal trainer (whether in-person or online), it’s your responsibility to help your clients live an overall healthier lifestyle. Therefore, it’s part of your job to teach your clients the importance of sleep.

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Importance of sleep

Sleep can impact things like overall health, sports performance, recovery, muscle growth, fat-burning metabolism and body composition.

If your clients are not getting enough good quality sleep, they will not feel rested in the morning, and their muscles will not be recovering properly.

Aside from being tired the next day, the lack of sleep will affect their efforts in the gym. While they may be able to ‘function just fine’, on a few hours of sleep, doing so will short-change their body composition and could take them longer to reach their goals.

Two main stages of sleep

Knowing about sleep stages is important for Personal Trainers as they typically follow a set pattern to help them adequately recover (get a good night of sleep and grow).

REM (rapid eye movement) Sleep

People enter REM sleep within the first 90 minutes of falling asleep and, as the sleep cycle repeats throughout the night, REM sleep occurs several times nightly. It accounts for approximately 20 to 25 percent of an adult’s sleep cycle.

Non-REM Sleep

Non–rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep has 3 stages:

Stage One: occurs right after you fall asleep and is very short (usually less than 10 minutes). It involves light sleep from which you can be awakened easily.

Stage Two: lasts from about 30 to 60 minutes. During this stage, your muscles become more relaxed and you may begin to have slow-wave (delta) brain activity.

Stage Three: is deep sleep and lasts about 20 to 40 minutes. During this stage, delta brain activity increases, and a person may have some body movements. It is very hard to wake up someone in stage N3.*

Habits that can improve your sleep

Take the time to unwind
Make your evening as relaxing as possible, by listening to calm music or taking a long warm bath. Just be aware that a shower will have the opposite effect so try avoiding them at night.

Eat healthy meals regularly
It can be very hard to get to sleep if your stomach is rumbling, or if you’ve eaten a large meal close to bedtime. When planning your evening meal try paying attention to what, and how much, you eat in order to ensure you are satisfied.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine at night
Caffeine causes hyperactivity and wakefulness, so if you can, avoid caffeine at least six hours before you go to bed. Doing this will give you a better chance of falling asleep easily. Alcohol, however, is the opposite. It acts as a sedative, which can make you fall into a deep sleep quicker than you naturally should. This can lead to an imbalance between slow-wave sleep and REM sleep, which can result in less of the latter and more of the former. 

Do not watch television in bed
This may also increase alertness. The brain could decide that bedtime is for watching television and refuse to sleep.

Exercise regularly
Exercising during the day will sufficiently tire you out and sleep will come faster at night.

Limit screen time
In the hour leading up to your bedtime, turn off all your screens (phones, laptops, computers and iPads). Try reading a book or writing a journal.

Never Oversleep
Oversleeping may set the body clock to a different cycle. This will make trying to fall asleep much harder.

Personal Trainers should always monitor their clients’ workouts and look out for those that could be affected by sleep deprivation. A client should have a training log with structured recovery incorporated into their fitness programme.

If you are looking for other solutions to support you in your workout recovery plan you can find out more in our blog How To Speed Up Muscle Recovery.


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