I’m sure you’ve heard about muscle memory before. It’s a common phrase we frequently use when something becomes second nature to us. Something we do without even thinking twice, something that just feels so innate to us. Sleep, just like eating, is something that we don’t always put much thought into. Typically, we’re hungry, so we eat. We’re thirsty, so we drink; we get sleepy, so we sleep. It’s a pretty straightforward thought process.
All of these no-brainers can be linked to something referred to as myelin. Myelin is made up of a fatty material that coats, protects, and insulates nerves. It’s something that we all have, but I didn’t know much about. Myelin enables nerves to quickly conduct impulses between the brain and different parts of your body. It’s wrapped around all your nerve pathways, which control each activity you do. Each time you repeat that specific activity, myelin grows—making the signal move at a more effortless and efficient rate. This is what’s responsible for that simple term we at isense often refer to as muscle memory.
Sleep consistently turns on genes that repair and maintain myelin membranes. Which in turn, will improve your memory. Meanwhile, sleep deprivation is linked with dying genes and puts a stress on cells, and anytime neurons feel they need to step in and attempt to obtain rest while you’re awake, it’s not only less efficient, but it also has a huge negative effect on your day-to-day performance. When we lose sleep, or become sleep deprived in the slightest way, things that came to us so instinctively are suddenly stressful and strenuous.
The skills you practice all day are reinforced as connections strengthened in your brain. The brain’s activity while dreaming is just as important in skill strengthening as what you do while you’re awake. You learn while you’re in REM sleep. If you spend all day practicing swimming while awake, when you fall asleep, you’re likely to be dreaming about swimming. The more time you have in REM sleep, sending signals to your body mentally, the better you’re going to be at them physically.
The growth of myelin is what creates the difference between your first time on a bike ever, versus your first time on a bike after a year of not riding a bike. You get on the bike the first time and feel like you have to think of every little detail and still fall 9 times out of 10. Rather than when you get on a bike after some time off, and you’re a little shaky but your muscle memory kicks in and next thing you know you’re riding as if it hadn’t been what felt like a decade since you last rode a bicycle! We aren’t born with these connections, we must learn them. What you do repeatedly, will stick and become a firm framework in your brain.
Each time you take a sip of your morning pick-me-up, you use 70 muscles. Seventy muscles to lift a coffee cup! We gain and maintain connections throughout our whole lives and we learn how to do this while sleeping. It’s fascinating what our bodies are doing while we shut our eyes and get quality sleep.
Sleep brings more than just rest. I suppose that’s kind of where muscle memory steps in because it appears we don’t focus very much on what’s happening while we sleep. It’s not really something uncommon for people to overlook, but once you become educated on what, how, and why to improve your sleep, it becomes… like muscle memory. You begin to fall into a healthy, second nature-like sleeping schedule without even thinking about it.