Train like a warrior. Sleep like a bear.
This is a mantra which many bodybuilders live by.
But do you really need to sleep to grow?
Today I’ll be looking into sleep and muscle growth, to bring you some solid facts on just how useful – or not – sleep can be for boosting your productivity in the gym.
Because after spending as many years as I have helping people get in shape, it’s noticeable just how many people neglect sleep as part of the muscle building equation.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
Sure, we all know sleep is good for us.
But sometimes it just isn’t possible to grab as much as you’d like.
Am I right?
Heck, my kids do not care about my fitness routine.
The second the clock strikes 5 a.m. they start using my head as a bouncy castle.
So how much sleep do you really need and, if you can’t get it, how badly is it going to hold you back in the gym?
Well, I encourage clients to aim for 8 hours whenever possible.
However, on those crazy days where you find yourself busier than a guy with a bullshit detector at a Juice Plus convention, aim for at least 4.
When we get enough sleep, we enhance out ability to build lean muscle as well as our performance in the gym, so 15 minutes here and there isn’t gonna cut it in the long-term.
Sleep And Muscle Growth – Recovery Gains
If you are familiar with weight training then you are possibly already familiar with the concept of muscle breakdown.
Contrary to popular belief, we do not grow as we train.
Sure we get a pump and yes, we look all big and bad in the mirror.
But we don’t actually grow.
Instead, muscle breakdown occurs when we are in the gym, hitting it hard, day after day and week after week.
Growth occurs after we have finished training, in the hours we spend a home, crippled after leg day trying to ease our way onto the toilet.
In terms of muscle growth, that’s where the “magic” happens.
Because during this time, our body begins the process of repairing the muscle tissues which were torn apart in our workout.
And providing you used weights which were significant enough to push your body past it’s old limits – read more about doing this here – then they’ll grow back slightly bigger and slightly stronger than before.
This process is known as progressive overload.
But while simple “rest and recovery” will provide you with some results, sleep will take those results to a whole new level.
Because during sleep, the body releases more natural growth hormone to help in this recovery process.
The largest pulse of growth hormone release occurs 1-4 hours after falling asleep.
Sleep-enhancing supplements such as ZMA can help to increase the body’s ability to release growth hormone during sleep. (1)
Glutamine has also been shown to increase growth hormone production, and supplementing with vitamin B6 has is known to promote more restful sleep – more restful sleep will encourage more growth hormone release. (2, 3)
Sleep And Muscle Growth – Performance Gains
So that covers why sleep is important and how it can improve your physical results from training.
But I also mentioned it could have a carry-over effect, boosting your actual performance in the gym.
Let’s talk about that now.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how trying to go hard in the gym on only a couple of hours sleep isn’t going to see you busting any personal best lifts, right?
Heck, after one particularly long night with my toddler I can distinctly remember trying to iron his nursery uniform with a bottle of milk.
Usually we end up plying ourselves with energy drinks in a bid to push on, but this is a strategy which will only take us so far down the road.
Sporting performance has been shown to decrease significantly as a result of lack of sleep. It has also been linked to poor blood sugar regulation and lower levels of anabolic hormones. (4, 5, 6)
These studies suggest that if you are sleep deprived on a regular basis, you will see a reduction in your ability to burn body fat, perform aerobic exercise, perform high intensity exercise, and a reduction in overall strength levels.
It can even play havoc with hunger cravings. (7)
Simply put, get some shut eye and you’ll see an “overnight” improvement in your results.
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1. Pietrowsky, R., et al. “Effects of diurnal sleep on secretion of cortisol, luteinizing hormone, and growth hormone in man.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab (1994).
2. Arwert, L. I., et al. “Effects of an oral mixture containing glycine, glutamine and niacin on memory, GH and IGF-I secretion in middle-aged and elderly subjects.” Nutr Neurosci. 2003 Oct;6(5):269-75.
3. Bartel, P.R., et al. “Vitamin B-6 supplementation and theophylline-related effects in humans.” Am J Clin Nutr. 1994 Jul;60(1):93-9.
4. Cook, C. J., et al. “Skill execution and sleep deprivation: effects of acute caffeine or creatine supplementation – a randomized placebo-controlled trial.” Journal of the Int Soc Sports Nut 2011, 8:2 doi:10.1186/1550-2783-8-2.
5. Azboy, O., et al.”Effects of sleep deprivation on cardiorespiratory functions of the runners and volleyball players during rest and exercise.” Acta Physiol. Hung. 2009 96, 29–3610.1556/APhysiol.96.2009.1.3.
6. Souissi, N., et al. “Effects of one night’s sleep deprivation on anaerobic performance the following day.” Eur J Appl Physiol. 2003;89(3–4):359–366. doi: 10.1007/s00421-003-0793-7.
7. Taheri, L., et al. “Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index.” PLoS Med 1(3): e62. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0010062 2004.