Sleep and Muscle Recovery: Does Sleep Heal Injuries and Can Healing Make You Tired?

5 min read

Last Modified 23 June 2021 First Added 24 July 2016

By Chris Clark

Unfortunately, muscle injury can happen to anybody at any time. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a world-class professional athlete or somebody who counts taking the stairs as their only exercise. If the worst should happen and you’re suffering from a muscle injury, there are a few remedies to help speed up the recovery process. Sleep is a major aid when looking to recuperate, so we’ve looked at how to mend your ailments through rest and get you back in the game in no time.

What are minor muscle injuries?

Before getting better, it helps to understand what your injury is. A minor muscle injury usually consists of a muscle pull, strain or tear. This occurs in the muscle fibres or in tendons and can damage small blood vessels. This causes local bleeding, bruising and irritating pain to nerve endings in the damaged area.

Causes

Unfortunately, these injuries can easily occur during any form of physical task such as:

  • sudden heavy lifting
  • exercise
  • sports
  • strenuous tasks within employment.

The causes of minor muscle injury include anything from:

  • overreaching
  • suddenly changing direction or speed
  • falling or landing awkwardly
  • colliding with a person or object.

Needless to say, none of these are pleasant and any shock to the body is a risk.

Symptoms

If your body does suffer a physical shock, signs of an injury include:

  • swelling
  • bruising
  • redness
  • pain when resting or moving the affected muscle or joint
  • weakness of the muscle or tendon
  • the inability to use the muscle at all.

Obviously the worser the pain, the more severe the injury, and if the pain is unbearable you should consult a GP as soon as possible.

Image of a nurse wrapping an arm in a bandage to heal a muscle injury

The importance of sleep and healing injuries

Injuries, especially minor ones, are often treatable with plenty of rest and deep sleep. Because the injury would have been caused by overreaching, lifting too much weight or moving awkwardly, then letting it relax and heal in its own time will help. Use this as a welcome excuse for a duvet day. This should help avoid further damage to the injured area and accelerate healing.

If the injury takes more than a few weeks to clear up, then you may have damaged a significant portion of muscle fibres or there might be damage to ligaments or joints. Hopefully it isn’t that serious, and rest will help you recover quicker by preventing further strain.

How does sleep help recovery and heal injuries?

The reason sleep and muscle recovery are connected, and why sleep is helpful during the recovery process, comes down to growth hormones and blood flow.

Growth hormones evidently stimulate growth, while aiding cell reproduction, cell regeneration and regulation of your body’s metabolism to literally repair you while you snooze.

When asleep, your general energy consumption is lowered as, most of the time, your body and brain is at rest. This means more energy can be used to restore your bones and muscles, both through an increase in growth hormone production and by an increase in blood flow to the area in need.

For example in deep sleep, around 40% of the usual blood flow to the brain is sent instead to the muscles to help restore energy. The hormone prolactin is also released during deep sleep. Prolactin has anti-inflammatory properties and is known to help the recovery of achy joints.

To find out more about how your body recovers overnight, see our interactive graphic ‘What Happens To Your Body During 8 Hours Of Sleep’.

What Happens To Your Body After 8 Hours Infographic

Do you sleep more when you’re injured?

You may find healing makes you tired and that you’re sleeping a lot after injury. This is completely normal. Injury and inflammation can be extremely painful and uncomfortable causing fatigue. Sleep and rest plays a vital role in recovery after injury and is key to helping your body heal. During sleep your body is very intelligent and heals any minor tears which occur in the muscles during the day. Without adequate sleep, you get behind in your healing and problems build up.

You may be wondering how many hours of sleep should you be getting at night? As each individual is different, there is no specific amount of time. However, the recommended amount of sleep for an adult every night is around 7-9 hours. If you use this time guide as an aim each night, your body should have sufficient time to help heal injuries.

Try to ensure your sleep is not interrupted. If you need further advice on how to achieve consecutive hours of sleep, read our article How to Achieve Clean Sleep in 2021 & Beyond.

Preventing further muscle injury

Whether you’re wanting to avoid injury in the first place, or have recovered and want to prevent future injury, then you should stretch daily, stick to an exercise program, stretch after exercise and establish a trusty warm-up routine.

If you are concerned that the muscle injury might be more serious, you should consult a GP or get in touch with a physiotherapist, who can assess your injury and provide you with a treatment including exercises which will promote effective recovery. A physiotherapist will also help you get back into your normal routine, whether you’re a top athlete or just wanting to get back to your daily life.

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