In this day and age, just about everybody enjoys their beauty sleep. It seems that everyone over the age of 18 jumps at the opportunity to squeeze a nap into their afternoon routine. When the weekends come around, many people use their days off to relax and catch up on the sleep they missed during the week. Ironically, for something that people love doing so much, it seems that no one gets enough sleep anymore. Every week we have the same conversations with people, talking about how tired we are and discussing how nice sleep sounds. In this article we are going to break this down and talk about just how important sleep is for hardcore gym rats as well as regular people. Before we break down sleep for muscle growth, I also want to touch on how sleep (or lack thereof) effects our general health.
How Important is Sleeping?
Sleep is one of the most important bodily functions for basic survival. Most people know that if you stopped sleeping, you would eventually die. What most people don’t realize however, is that even one night of little to no sleep can have serious health effects on the mind as well as the body. The most prominent effects of an all nighter takes place in the brain. Little to no sleep has negative effects on your brains cognition, emotional responses, and short term memory retrieval. There are also negative effects on your immune system, and metabolism, which both are most likely to hurt your muscle and strength gains. Combine this with the fact that you’re gonna be too exhausted to hit the gym and train like usual, and you’re risking major muscle and manhood catabolism.
Now let’s talk about the negative effects that continual lack of sleep has on the mind and body. When you consistently don’t get enough sleep, serious life threatening side effects come into play. In addition to the side effects listed above, lack of sleep increases your risk for high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, and heart attacks. You also have an increased risk for developing ADD, depression and mental impairment. In addition to this, you are at a high risk for developing sleeping disorders such as insomnia and apnea (assuming you don’t already have them). So to answer the original question, sleep is extremely important for basic survival as well as gains in the gym, which are basically the same thing.
Sleep and Muscle Growth
Okay, enough of the boring stuff. You and me both know that the real reason you’re reading this article is because you’ll do anything it takes to spare any and every bit of strength and muscle tissue you’ve earned in your lifting career. Here’s some ways that lack of sleep will ruin your progress in the gym, and what you can do to prevent this from happening.
Testosterone – There is a reason people who want to be huge and strong inject this hormone straight into their blood stream. Testosterone is hands down the most important hormone for building size and strength. When you are in the REM stage of sleep, testosterone levels in the blood are increased higher than any other period of time. When this happens, valuable muscle recovery and growth takes place. Cutting your sleep short will not allow this natural process to happen.
Growth Hormone – As the name implies, growth hormone is a hormone that stimulates growth of cells and tissues. While you’re asleep, the amount of growth hormone flowing in your blood stream is also much higher than it is while you’re awake. Depriving yourself of sleep will ruin this part of the recovery process as well. 1
Neuron Firings – Another way that not sleeping screws with your workouts is through the neuron firings from the brain to the muscle. In short, this is the process in which the brain tells a muscle when to contract and relax. When this process gets messed up, it greatly effects your workouts and how much weight you can move effectively. This will directly make you weaker, as you will not be able to recruit as many motor neurons as possible, causing you to not be able to lift as much as you could have if you were well rested. This can also cause you to have muscle twitches, which gets old real fast.
Cortisol – Not getting enough sleep causes your cortisol levels to increase. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone, meaning that it calls for the breakdown of muscle tissue for energy. Having higher cortisol levels means more muscle gets broken down, which can lead to increases in body fat.
Glycogen – Lack of sleep screws up the body’s process of glycogen storing. This means that you will have less fuel for both your involuntary bodily functions as well as your physical expenditures. When this happens, your body is forced to use muscle tissue as energy, which is counterproductive.
Risk of Injury – Lack of sleep causes you to be unaware and have a slower reaction time. Both these things can lead to injuries in the gym.
How Much Sleep Should I be Getting?
This is a loaded question. There are many general guidelines for the recommended amount of sleep you should get each night. These can range from anywhere between 6-10 hours a night. The truth is that everyone is different, and as a result of this everyone will require different amounts of sleep a night. There are many factors that influence the amount of sleep you need, including age, weight, gender, job/career, diet, activity level, stress levels and medical conditions.
I would recommend for everyone to experiment with their sleep quantities, and figure out the amount they need to be as alert and productive as possible. The best way to do this is to make sure you are going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Going to bed and waking up at different times every day can throw off your body’s sleep cycles and sleep patterns. It is important to eliminate all possible variables, so that your body is able to develop a routine. In addition to this, it would be ideal to cut out any caffeine or other stimulant products while you do this, because these could tamper with your results also. The next thing to do is start with a certain amount of sleep a night, and get this amount of sleep consistently for about a week or two. If you feel sluggish or tired, try adding a little more sleep for a couple weeks and see how your body reacts. Keep in mind that you can also feel sluggish from oversleeping, so if you are sleeping for 11 hours a night and feel sluggish, it would be smarter to reduce your sleep instead of sleeping for even longer. Experiment around and figure out what works best for you. Since everyone is different, this is the best way to find out your optimal amount of sleep.
There’s a reason that most workout programs have one or more scheduled rest days in them. Rest is an important part of strength and muscle growth. Don’t waste all of your hard work in the gym by not resting and recovering properly.
If you have any questions or comments about sleep for muscle growth, feel free to leave a comment below!
Dattilo, M., HKM, A., Medeiros, A., Monico Neto, M., Souza, H., Tufik, S., & de Mello, M. (2011). Sleep and muscle recovery: endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis. Medical hypotheses, 220-222. ↩