What Does Sleep Have to Do with Your Muscle Gain?

If you’re looking for muscle gain, you probably think that devoting more hours to the gym is your best bet. But you’re wrong. Your diet is also responsible for a high percentage of your progress, but it is not always the key to getting out of a training rut.

If you’re looking for the real secret to achieving the muscle development you want, it’s simple – get more sleep. That’s right. Sleep is likely the missing piece to your training regimen.

In fact, according to research, it just may be the most important component of your regimen as it helps to increase muscular strength and size and promote efficient recovery. 

Sleeping girl on a bench

Why Do You Badly Need to Sleep A Good Whole Night?

Sleep is important for a variety of reasons. As you sleep, your body produces growth hormone and synthesizes protein, provided you consume protein prior to going to sleep. Energy consumption is reduced and brain cells are restored.

For athletes, the main benefits of good rest are muscle gain and mental alertness. Sleep impacts these latter factors explicitly.

Without enough sleep, your time in the gym will be less effective – meaning that you could follow the best program out there and still not get the benefits you are looking for.

Here are a few more ways that sleep impacts your muscle development…

Repair and Replace Muscle and Other Tissue

Sleeping for a period of 8 to 10 hours each night can be equated to fasting as it impacts metabolism and muscle development in the body.

Taking the time to eat before sleeping helps reverse the catabolic process that typically diminishes gains and can increase protein synthesis in the muscles.

Typically, muscle is broken down when you sleep to provide your stomach with amino acids and stave off starvation.

Eating before bed offsets this mechanism and actually improves your body’s ability to retain protein and muscle. 

Additionally, human growth hormone is released during sleep. 

Poor quality sleep can negatively impact the release of this hormone and diminish development of the muscles.

Reduce Energy Consumption

Sleep is crucial for lowered energy consumption and resource conservation. Without proper sleep, your body needs much more fuel to meet your body’s energy needs.

Because increased muscle size is one of your main focuses, you need to learn to effectively manage your energy outside of the gym.

Eating several meals throughout the day is important, but you also need to get adequate sleep so that your food can be used to rebuild muscle.

Increase Mental Alertness

Mental alertness is important for you as a bodybuilder for numerous reasons. Not only does it increase your awareness throughout the day, but it is also essential to be on par in your training sessions. You’ve probably also noticed that your motivation level is highest when your mental alertness is high. 

Studies suggest that it is during REM sleep that brain function and mental alertness is impacted most. This period of rest diminishes the presence of adenosine, which impacts mental alertness all day long.

What Are the Stages of the Sleep Cycle?

Your brain follows a certain pattern or cycle of sleep.

Understanding the stages in this cycle is important for you as a bodybuilder. To adequately recover, your brain must experience these stages.

Missing out on REM and stage three and four of sleep is most problematic as it is during these stages that the brain and body are at complete rest and memory consolidation occurs.

  • Stage One: This stage is seen as the transition between wakefulness and sleepfulness. This is the shortest period of sleep and accounts for 2 to 5 percent of the sleep/wake cycle.
  • Stage Two: This phase is considered the baseline of sleep, but is still non-REM. It accounts for 45 to 60 percent of sleep
  • Stages 3 & Four: These are the deepest stages of sleep and serve as the most restorative for the brain. This stage constitutes 40 percent of the cycle
  • REM Sleep: REM is the most active stage of sleep and accounts for 20 to 25 percent of a normal night of sleep. During this stage, your breathing, heart rate, and brain activity quicken.

How Can You Improve Your Sleep?

High quality sleep is essential, but it can often be difficult to get a good night of rest. If you often struggle falling asleep or just don’t get a good night’s rest even when you do fall asleep quickly, here are a few tips that can help.

  • Don’t oversleep. Oversleeping can actually put your body on a different sleep cycle and make falling asleep more difficult. Adults don’t often need more than 6-8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Take a warm bath. A warm bath can help soothe and relax your body. Avoid a shower, however, as that would be too stimulating.
  • Exercise at the right time. Getting your training in early in the day will tire out your body and ensure at the sleep comes faster at night. Training too late in the evening will function to stimulate your body and keep you awake, though.
  • Regulate caffeine and alcohol use. Caffeine causes hyperactivity and wakefulness, while alcohol disrupts the sleep cycle. Avoid both to promote better sleep.
  • Improve your sleeping environment. Keeping your room reasonably cool and using this guide for pillows will help you create an environment more conducive to good sleep.
  • Avoid late night technology. Watching any type of light emitting screen – TV, phone, computer, or tablet – will stimulate your brain, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
  • Supplement with melatonin. Melatonin is a produced by your body when it’s time to sleep. A few milligrams of melatonin can help some people to fall sleep easier. It is not habit forming or dangerous to your health. If you think you’re going to have trouble falling asleep take melatonin and lay down, follow the above tips, and usually within 20-30 minutes you’ll be asleep.

As research suggests, sleep is important for a number of different reasons, especially for muscle gain.

Adequate rest not only restores brain function, but it also promotes muscle development and growth. Your training could have the opposite effect you’re looking for without enough rest, so make sure to incorporate rest and good sleep in your regimen.

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