How to recover after your workout

Sleep and recovery after exercise (infographic)

Professional athletes get around 10 hours per day to help them with recovery, muscle growth and tissue repair. Here's why sleep is so crucial to your workout regime.

If you play sports, like to hit the gym, or do any kind of regular exercise, you probably take your fitness regime quite seriously.

If you’re preparing for a match or an event, it’s likely that you’ll focus hard on your training schedule and your diet. But what about your sleep?

Sleep – the new performance enhancer

In recent years the world of professional sport and athletics has started to embrace the science of sleep because of the many ways it can actively enhance performance and improve your sporting potential.

Sleep specialist and Olympic sports coach, Dr. Mark Rosekind recently said in the Huff Post that: ““As athletics become more and more competitive to where a millisecond can be the difference between a gold and silver medal, everyone is looking for any possible edge they can get — sleep is that edge.”

But even if you’re not a pro, sleep should a vital consideration as part of your overall fitness goals. All types of exercise take a toll on the body, and sleep and rest are vital for your recovery.

In addition, y0u need need to consider that exercising the wrong way can have a negative impact on your sleep. If you want to avoid post-exercise insomnia, you’ll need to get your workout timing right – stay hydrated and cut back on the caffeine.

Here’s a great infographic from The Sleep Matters Club, a lifestyle magazine of bed retailer Dreams, with a guide on how to recover after exercise and avoid post-exercise insomnia.


How sleep can aid in muscle recovery after exercise



We’ve all felt the benefits of a great night’s sleep. But it’s even more important for athletes to rest properly to aid muscle recovery and growth after exercise.

Training, tossing & turning

After a big race or heavy training session, sleeplessness can occur. This is also known as post-exercise insomnia.

Ways to prevent post-exercise insomnia

  • Work out no less than 3 hours before bedtime
  • Drink lots of water before, during and after exercise
  • Only consume caffeine before your exercise, not continuously throughout
  • A hot bath/shower will prepare your body for sleep
  • For a comfortable sleep cool your bedroom to between 15-20°C

What happens in your body during exercise?

  • Dehydration from sweating
  • Caffeine consumed through energy drinks/snacks
  • Increase in heart rate & core temperature
  • Suppressed melatonin production
  • Stimulated nervous & endocrine systems

How does this affect your sleep?

  • It’s difficult to lower your core temperature when you’re dehydrated from endurance exercises. Dehydration also raises your heart rate, meaning no sleep for you!
  • During exercise, we produce the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine. Put simply, the body stays hyped even after the race is over!
  • Cortisol also stops the production of melatonin, a.k.a. the sleep hormone. Bright lights at the gym will inhibit melatonin production, too.

Deep sleep

During sleep, we pass through various stages, all of which play a role to restoration. Stages 3 and 4 of non-REM sleep, also known as ‘deep sleep’, are the most important for muscle recovery.

Ideal sleep time

8-10 hours

Anything longer can reset your body clock and damage your sleep cycle the following night. Anything shorter may not give adequate time for your body to fully recover from the stress of training.

What happens during deep sleep?

  • Blood pressure drops
  • Breathing becomes deeper and slower
  • Blood not used in your resting brain is sent to muscles
  • Muscles receive extra oxygen & nutrients which helps with healing and growth
  • Pituitary gland releases human growth hormone, causing tissue growth & muscle repair
  • New cells are regenerated & muscle tissue is replenished

More exercise = more sleep required

Physical activity puts stress on the muscles and nervous system. This is rebuilt during sleep.

When it’s most important

  • Strength or weight training
  • Periods of extra training leading up to an event
  • Endurance tests like marathons

Why it’s most important


During strenuous workouts, muscles build up microscopic tears. Sleep helps to heal those tears as your body produces larger molecules to repair muscular, immune and nervous system problems.


The body needs to synthesise proteins faster than it breaks them down to build up muscles. Sleep is the best time for the body to use absorbed nutrients for this protein synthesis as it’s the longest we go without eating.

Did you know?

Building muscle mass is also known as hypertrophy

Make the most of your training with a great night’s sleep – the results should follow!

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