How Does Sleep Impact Recovery?

Updated: Oct 3, 2019

sleep and recovery

Sleep is the best medicine! Whether you are recovering from being sick, having an injury, or even surgery, sleep is an important part of the recovery process. If you want to get back to your usual activities, you need sleep.

What’s the Science Behind Sleep & Recovery?

You’ve probably had a parent of physician tell you to get some rest when you were in the process of recovering, but very few of us have ever asked why sleep matters.

man sleeping

Blood Flow

Whenever you’ve suffered an injury in the past, you may have been told to put some ice on it. When you put ice on an acute injury, blood vessels constrict decreasing blood flow to the injured area. When blood flow decreases, inflammation and muscle spasm decrease.

In contrast, heat causes increased blood flow to the injured area by dilating blood vessels. An increase in blood flow increases the amount of oxygen and other needed nutrients to the injured area.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, in stages 3 and 4 of sleep, blood supply to muscles increase. This brings restorative nutrients to the muscles, as well as oxygen.


We all produce hormones throughout the day. However, as time passes throughout the day, hormone levels can change. When we fall asleep, our bodies work to create balance once again. Some of the important hormones during recovery that we benefit from this balance include: Coristol, Ghrelin, Leptin, and Human Growth Hormone (sometimes referred to as HGH).


Many of us know Cortisol as the body’s natural alarm system – the “fight-or-flight" hormone. It is produced in the adrenal glands at the top of the kidneys. High levels of Cortisol in the body lead to higher levels of stress on the body and lower levels lead to lower stress. Cortisol is responsible for many things in the body including like:

  • The regulation of your blood pressure

  • Controlling your sleep cycle (when you wake up and when you fall asleep)

  • Boosts your energy

  • Weight gain or weight loss

  • Keeping the inflammation within your body down

  • Managing how your body uses proteins, fats, and carbs

  • Your mood

As someone is going through recovery, these things can greatly impact their outcomes. A positive attitude, with increased energy levels, a normal blood pressure, and a steady weight can positively impact your overall recovery.

Ghrelin & Leptin

hunger hormone

Feeling hungry as you read this post? That’s the Ghrelin kicking in! Ghrelin is produced in the stomach and is released through the small intestine, brain, pancreas, and stomach itself. In contrast, Leptin is responsible for telling the body when it has had enough food and when to store fat. Leptin is produced by the fat cells in adipose tissue. So why do these matter in recovery?

When we are limited in our activities because of an injury, illness, and surgery, we are more likely to gain weight. Added weight puts additional strain on the body; more specifically to weight-bearing joints like the knees, hips, and ankles, as well as the lower back.

Human Growth Hormone (HGH) or Somatotrophin HGH is a hormone that is produced by your pituitary gland. It promotes cell/tissue repair, muscle growth, strength, and performance. Our body’s naturally produce the hormone, however, you may know the name from elite athletes who use human growth hormone supplements to get a competitive edge (and a punishment from their overseeing entity).

If you are recovering from an injury, you can cause the body to produce additional HGH through exercise and sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “Growth hormone is typically secreted in the first few hours after the onset of sleep and generally is released during slow-wave sleep (SWS).”When deprived of sleep, there is a noticeable change in the human growth hormone release.

Not only is sleep important for your rehab, it’s important for injury prevention, too! Can you imagine trying to workout or play your next sports match without sleep? It probably wouldn’t end well. So the next time your body tells you to sleep a little longer, listen to it. It may be telling you it’s needed!


National Sleep Foundation, "What Happens When You Sleep?",

National Sleep Foundation, "The Physiology of SLeeping, the Endocrine System & Sleep",

#sleeping #rehabilitation #injuryrecovery

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