You can eat the right things, take the right supplements and hit the gym five times a week, but without proper sleep, athletic progress remains stagnant.
We all know sleep is integral to our overall health and wellness. Research shows lack of sleep can result in an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. What they don’t tell you is that loss of sleep can inhibit muscle growth.
That’s right. Without logging adequate hours of shut-eye each night, even the most effective workout and nutrition plans are useless.
Four Reasons Why You Need to Pay Attention to Your Sleep
If you are interested in gaining lean muscle mass, here’s why you need to pay attention to your sleep:
#1. Muscle regeneration occurs during sleep
Muscle growth hinges on the break down and repair of muscle tissue. After a workout, your body repairs damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process where it fuses muscle fibers together to form new muscle protein strands called myofibrils. These myofibrils increase in thickness and number to create muscle growth.
The muscle regeneration process doesn’t happen during your workout; it happens when you rest.
REM sleep is the deepest stage of sleep. During this phase of the sleep cycle, you lose all musculoskeletal function, your heart rate drops, and your brain rests from activity. This allows blood flow to increase to your muscles.
The oxygen and nutrients delivered to your muscles via blood vessels are the ingredients needed for growth and healing to occur. Without sleep, your cells and tissues don’t receive the nourishment needed to repair themselves.
If you’re not sleeping enough, your body doesn’t have time to rebuild muscle because it’s too busy trying to take care of the other important stuff (like white and red blood cell regeneration).
Not to mention, lack of sleep decreases testosterone levels. Testosterone, in tandem with strength training, is a hormone responsible for the increase of muscle mass and size.
#2. Protein synthesis takes place while you rest
Muscle growth only occurs when the rate of protein synthesis (creation by combination) is greater than the rate of protein breakdown. This happens during sleep.
When we are young, proteins from our diet are synthesized at a rapid rate while we are growing. When we get older, the rate of synthesization slows. As a result, it’s only through exercise that muscle proteins are synthesized to create larger and stronger muscles.
Eating close to bedtime can help increase protein synthesis during sleep.
#3. Growth hormones are produced while sleeping
Seventy-five percent of growth hormone is released during sleep. Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is secreted to help rebuild your body tissue and muscles from the stresses (aka damage) of the day. HGH production decreases with age and is suppressed by lack of sleep.
#4. Focus and productivity is improved
A rested brain is a focused brain. And a focused brain is a motivated brain. As we sleep the brain recharges.
The amount of rest we get each night has a direct impact on productivity and energy levels. One study found sleeping longer increased levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in areas of the brain that are active while awake. ATP is a source of energy for brain cells. If sleep gives you the boost needed to get out of bed, how much more does it give you the energy needed to make it through the last 20 minutes of your workout?
In simple terms, when you sleep, you recover, and when you recover you replace, repair, and rebuild—all of which are needed for optimal progress.
Results don’t come from diet and exercise alone. Rather, food, exercise, and sleep must work in in tandem to help you optimize your health to the best it can be.
Three Tips to Improve Your Sleep Quality
If you struggle to get adequate sleep each night, here are three tips for logging more hours:
#1. Continue to hit the gym
As it turns out, exercising is a great remedy for troubled sleep. One research study found that 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise helped individuals with chronic insomnia fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Other studies show physical activity results in longer periods of deep, slow-wave sleep (the stage where muscle regeneration occurs).
Not to mention, a daily dose of exercise has the power to reverse the negative effects of stress—a common thief of quality sleep.
#2. Get a better mattress
As athletes, you should consider what type of mattress you are sleeping on to set yourself up for the best possible sleep each and every night. Believe it or not, your mattress can have a major impact on the quality of sleep you get and how you feel when you wake up. We are disciplined about our diet and exercise, we should be disciplined about our sleep habits too.
If you frequently experience restless nights you believe are caused by your mattress, take a look at the support it’s providing, if it puts pressure on your joints, or how it keeps your spine in alignment.
If you are regularly active, pay close attention to the support, pressure relief and cooling properties of your mattress.
#3. Create a wind down routine
Just like we meal prep and create a workout routine, we should also come up with a wind down routine and stick to it.
Since the invention of artificial light, our brains don’t automatically power down come night down. Our minds actually need to be prepped for sleep. About an hour before bed, start sending signals to your brain that bed time is approaching. Dim the lights, take a warm bath, stash the screens, whatever it takes to help your mind slow down.
The Bottom Line
Quality sleep is about as important as it gets when it comes to muscle recovery. When we sleep, our body essentially repairs our muscles to prepare for the day ahead, and this process is crucial. Without adequate sleep, the body may break down and experience injury, or at the minimum, it will definitely slow your progress in the gym. Follow these tips to get the most out of your sleep and this will reflect in your performance and improve your muscle gain.