A lot of us underestimate how many functions of our bodies reset during a single nights' sleep. I won't be able to recap every way in which we recover overnight or else this would be a ten page research paper, but what I can cover are the top basic functions that take place while we sleep!
The Science of Sleep
In school they teach that during a normal sleep period, there are 3 to 4 cycles (each about 70-120 minutes each), and each of those cycles has 4 individual stages. The four stages are broken down into REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep.
This is the stage where you're first starting to doze off. Brain and body functions start to slow down but you're not fully relaxed yet. This lasts 5-10 minutes and is the lightest sleep out of all the stages.
During this stage, heart rate and breathing slows, muscles relax even more and body temperature drops. The first two stages are the easiest to wake from.
Stage 3 is classified as deep sleep, and this is when the body goes into recovery mode. Brain activity slows and starts to show pulses of activity that help you stay asleep. Deep sleep is optimal for muscle growth and recovery since this is when the body releases growth hormone. This type of sleep is optimized when we sleep cold. In fact, according to research published in Environmental Endocrinology, growth hormone production increased by over 450% after cold exposure. This is why deep sleep is so important for muscle recovery and growth. When deep sleep is disrupted or skipped altogether, progress is most definitely compromised and could be the reason for a plateau.
Some other hormones are also affected in stage 3. Cortisol- which affects metabolism and is part of the body's stress response system. Leptin and ghrelin, which help with appetite control. All of these have a long term impact on your fitness progress and overall health.
This stage is known for REM sleep. During this cycle, brain activity reverts back and resembles waking brain activity- which is why this is the stage where vivid dreams would take place. However, the muscles are paralyzed in this stage in a condition known as atonia. This is what keeps your legs and arms from responding to your dreams. Your breathing and eye muscles stay active though, hence the name "rapid eye movement."
If you've worked on your sleep quality and still struggle with muscle recovery, consider an EMS/TENS Unit. We recommend the wireless VPod, which brags 24 features and adjustable intensities. Visit VPod.Life to learn more!
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