To eat, sleep, and repeat is the dream lifestyle for a lot of us, but hustle culture tends to give us a rude awakening every time we get too cozy with our blankets. It’s 2020 and productivity is the buzzword- whether it is working your job or working out at the gym.
It’s almost like we should feel guilty if we are tempted to catch a rest. Bragging about how little sleep we get and how busy our schedule has been seems to be the order of the day. We forget a very crucial fact- humans are not designed to run on negligible sleep.
Sleep is indispensable to our body and brain healing itself and maintaining optimum functioning. Whether it is at your job or in the gym, you cannot excel without giving your body the time to rest and recuperate from the stress it has already endured.
When training to gain mass, you must subject your body to intense workouts. Muscle recovery is crucial for gaining muscle tissue, and without sufficient sleep, your muscles would not repair and grow- so what is the point of training so hard at the cost of rest or sleep, right?
In this article, I’ll be telling you just how important sleep is for us who work out for hypertrophy on the daily and how sleep and muscle growth are connected, and give you some tips to get the best sleep of your life.
Sleep: Why is it Important?
When asleep, you may think your body has pulled the breaks on all its functioning, but actually, there is a LOT going on under the hood. While you are resting, your body is essentially taking stock of any damage, and repairing those.
This is also the perfect time for tissues to grow and hormones to be regulated. Quality sleep alleviates physical and mental fatigue. For muscle recovery and gains, sleep is indispensable.
Why? Well, that is the focus of this article and we’ll get to that once the basics are dealt with. In a nutshell, while you are asleep, your brain and body are gearing up to help you function at your optimum once you are up the next morning.
Stages of Sleep
To better understand the role of sleep and its impact on muscle recovery, let us first have a look at the phases of sleep.
1. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep: Adult humans experience REM sleep throughout the night in cycles ranging from around 90 to 120 minutes each. Typically, the latter half of your sleep, that is, the few hours before you wake up, is when you experience a majority of the REM sleep.
Ever noticed how you dream not long before you wake up, or for short bursts during the night? Yep. That’s the REM sleep. Comprising about 20-25% of your total sleep time, the REM sleep cycles provide your brain with energy and help it recover so it can function at its optimum when awake.
2. Non-REM Sleep: Your non-REM sleep cycle, which makes up about 40% of your total sleep time, is the one that factors into your muscle recovery and growth.
This phase is what is known as ‘deep sleep’ or slow-wave sleep, and is crucial for restoring your body, and by extension muscle recovery. Here, your brain is resting, your bloody pressure lowers, your breathing is deep and slow- essentially, everything is pretty calm and your brain sees very little activity.
Consequently a chunk of the available blood supply can be allocated to your muscular system. During deep sleep, your blood delivers higher doses of nutrients and oxygen to your muscles, so they can repair and grow.
Human growth Hormone, or HGH, is also secreted by your pituitary gland as you enter this stage of sleep, which catalyses tissue and muscle repair and, well, growth.
How Much Sleep is Enough Sleep?
Technically, an adult human should be getting at least 7-9 hours of quality sleep. No, power naps spread out between making PowerPoint presentations don’t count.
A good night’s sleep is important for the optimum secretion of HGH, and if you experience a deficiency of HGH, you’d be losing muscle, experiencing fatigue, and hamper your performance at the gym.
According to a poll by the National Sleep Foundation, approximately 63% Americans aren’t getting enough sleep through the week. Of course, they experienced fatigue, mood swings, lack of mental clarity, loss of muscle mass, and their performance left a lot wanting.
Sleep and Muscle Growth: How are They Related?
Now we get to the thrust of this article. The correlation between sleep and muscle recovery. We already touched upon how sleep affects muscle gain and recovery, but let’s delve a little deeper.
Impact of Better Sleep When Training for Hypertrophy
● Increase in Muscle Growth: Adequate sleep works wonders to not only help you effectively gain lean mass (about 30% more than you would, running on poor sleep), but also reduces fat gain. The result? A perfectly balanced physique.
● Boost in Testosterone Levels: Sleep and muscle recovery are directly related. The better you sleep, the better is the circulation of testosterone across your bloodstream. Higher testosterone circulation implies that you can quickly gain muscle mass, while maintaining a lean physique.
● Reduction in Cortisol: Cortisol, and other stress hormones, inhibits the functioning of testosterone and break down muscle tissue. Better sleep effectively lowers your cortisol levels, thus not only leaving you calmer but also aiding in muscle growth.
● Increase in IGF-1 (insulin-like Growth Factor): Ever noticed that you’ve been working out just as hard as before, but your muscle growth and endurance seems to have plateaued?
This is quite common and can be very demotivating. When you get sufficient sleep, your body’s IGF-1 levels are raised, which allows your body to utilize satellite cells to enhance muscle growth when overcoming plateaus.
● Reduction in Inflammation: Sleep and muscle recovery are very much related. Inflammation inhibits muscle recovery, thus putting a halt to muscle growth as well. Also, you would be experiencing moderate to excruciating soreness in your muscles, which would hamper your workout routine.
If you push yourself despite the inflammation, you are very likely to injure yourself and be worse for the wear. Adequate sleep alleviates chronic inflammation, thus speeding up the recovery of your muscle tissue, reducing risks of injury, and is overall beneficial for your health.
● Optimized Nutrition Partitioning: Nutrition partitioning, essentially, is how your body processes energy. It implies whether the calories you intake go to muscle tissues or fat tissues, and when you are burning calories whether you burn muscle or fat.
When you get adequate sleep, your body turns to fat tissues for stored energy, instead of muscle. Therefore, you can gain lean muscles effectively, instead of burning through them.
More about Effective Sleep, Nutrition Partitioning, and Muscle Gain
The market is saturated with muscle gain supplements and they can help combat most of the impediments brought about by inadequate sleep, thus affecting your sleep and muscle growth cycle.
I’m not saying that’s an excuse to skimp out on sleep, but they definitely help optimize your body’s functions. Where sleep is non-negotiable, is nutrition partitioning, which has an immense impact on muscle gain.
Let’s have a look at a study, to put into context the changes in body composition after ten weeks of training for hypertrophy, and how sleep affects the same.
In this case, the test group was divided into two- both following the same weight training routine, but with one group counseled to receive better sleep.
While the first group, that is, the one just focusing on the weight training, gained considerable mass, they also gained some amount of fat. So if they gained an average of five pounds during the ten-week test period, three of these were muscle mass.
On the other hand, the group which also focused on getting better sleep along with their workouts experienced 30% faster muscle gain and also exhibited fat loss.
What was the differentiator? Nutrition partitioning. Those who slept more, burned fat as their source of energy. So, not only were their muscle gains uncompromised, they lost fat in the process.
Also, the muscle-protein synthesis was boosted when the test group got better sleep. See how a few extra hours of sleep makes a considerable difference in the long run, not to mention the other benefits we already discussed such as lowered cortisone, reduced inflammation, etc.
Sleep Hygiene: How to Improve the Quality of Your Sleep
Now that we have established just how important sleep is to optimize your muscle gain, recovery, endurance, and overall health, the key question is how to turn around your sleep habits for the better.
Good sleep, like any other habit, requires some amount of discipline and effort. Kind of ironic, considering sleep is supposed to be relaxing and effortless right? Fret not, it’s nothing nightmarish. Here are a few simple tips and lifestyle alterations (known as ‘sleep hygiene’) you could incorporate to get better quality of sleep and skyrocket your gains:
1. Go to Bed Early
Everybody has the same 24 hours at their disposal, and it would be ridiculous to ask you to switch your work hours just to get more sleep. What you can do, is go to bed early so you can get the recommended 8 hours of sleep without worrying about clocking in late to your job or university.
2. Avoid Food Right Before Bed
Try having your dinner earlier, since eating within two hours of your bedtime would make it harder to fall asleep.
Ever noticed how you feel drowsy after having rice or a lot of bread during lunch? Carbs, starch, and other foods with a higher glycemic index, though not strictly the healthiest, help increase your melatonin production.
Studies show that not only does this help you fall asleep quicker (by reducing the sleep onset latency), but also significantly extends the duration of your sleep. So maybe reserve that bowl of rice for dinner if you’re looking to get more sleep.
3. Bigger the Breakfast, the Better
Usually our breakfasts are lighter and we go all out on the dinner. But try having a bigger breakfast to load up on the calories, so you don’t go to bed feeling like you have a gigantic boulder in your belly. That would be quite uncomfortable, and you would definitely have trouble falling to sleep.
4. Restrict Your Caffeine Intake to the Mornings
Bear with me; I am not trying to declare caffeine as the villain. However, you should definitely reserve your cup of tea or coffee for the mornings. Try to restrict your caffeine intake per day to 1 mg for each pound of your body weight.
Caffeine in the latter half of the day would make you too jittery to slip into sound sleep. If you are craving a relaxing cuppa before bed, consider herbal alternatives such as chamomile or lavender tea.
5. Avoid Alcohol Around Your Bedtime
As a general rule of thumb, practicing moderation when it comes to alcohol intake is recommended for your overall health. While a few pegs per week isn’t criminal, make sure you stop drinking at least four hours before your intended bedtime for better quality of sleep.
6. Soak Up the Sunshine
Spend at least half an hour in the sun, if not more. No, don’t roast yourself into a lobster- lather up on the sunscreen, but get some sun.
It boosts up your melanin production and helps you fall asleep easier at night. Schedule some time out- maybe a morning walk, or scheduling errands during that time. You could even take a stroll around during your breaks from work.
7. Work on Reducing Chronic Stress
If your brain is working overtime trying to plan out the next day or stressing over life decisions, it is quite natural that you would have trouble falling asleep- and when you do, it would probably be a very fitful one. To get quality sleep at night, try to bring down your stress and anxiety levels during bedtime.
Take a couple hours before your actual bedtime to de-stress and indulge in activities that calm you down and you enjoy. No social media, scrolling through work emails, or making your grocery list! Consider making your bedroom a calming environment that automatically relaxes you.
8. Keep the Lights Warm and Dim
While bright and cold lights are great for boosting productivity and keeping you alert, this is the exact opposite of what you want around your bedtime. Dim the lights and switch to warmer tones a few hours before bed to get yourself feeling relaxed, cozy, and ready to drift off to sleep.
Try and avoid your phone, computer, or television screens around this time as they emit blue lights. If you absolutely must, turn on the night-mode on your devices and keep the brightness to a minimum, to keep it less harsh on your eyes.
If you are one of those who need to keep track of those last minute e-mails or messages from work, consider investing in blue-light blocking glasses.
Not only are warmer lights less strenuous on the eyes, they also help you produce more melatonin, thus guaranteeing better sleep. Right before going to bed, turn off the lights completely, or put on a sleep mask to engulf you in soothing darkness.
9. Keep Your Bedroom Cool
A comfortably cool temperature (around 20°C), makes it easier to fall asleep. And you can snuggle up in your comfy blankets without sweating your soul out- that’s an added bonus.
10. Keep Your Ambience Quiet
While you are sleeping, your room bedroom should be as quiet as the grave. If you can’t ensure a noise free atmosphere, consider investing in earplugs to block it out. Also, you could use a white noise machine to cancel out any obstructive ambient noises while you sleep. .
11. Call It a Night with a Hot Shower
Try hopping in for a quick warm shower before going to bed. This would relax your muscles and melt away the stress of the day to put you in the right headspace for a relaxing sleep. Also, as your body cools off, it would be easier for you to fall asleep.
12. Calm Your Mind
Definitely easier said than done, but try and calm your mind as much as possible before bed. The 30 minutes before going to bed should see you being as Zen as you can be.
Try meditating, drinking a warm cup of herbal tea or just warm water, maybe read a light novel and listen to soothing music. Use a few drops of that essential oil you got in a gift set and is probably gathering dust in a corner.
Turn on your favorite podcast or audiobook (no true crime or anything to engaging!), and don’t forget to turn on your device’s sleep timer. Drift off to sleep with a calm mind, surrounded by sensations you enjoy.
13. Maintain a Consistent Sleep Routine
Like building any other habit, good sleep hygiene and sleep schedule takes practice and consistency. Keep your dinner time, gadgets-out time, alarms, and so on, consistent. Try to go to bed at the same time every day, even if it is difficult for you to fall asleep immediately initially.
Keep practicing good sleep hygiene implementing as many of these tips as possible, and you should be getting better and longer sleep in no time!
13. Establishing a Circadian Rhythm
Once you have fixed the duration of your sleep to accommodate at least 7-10 hours, the next step is to establish the right circadian rhythm by maintaining consistency in the timings you fall asleep and wake up at, and you automatically create a balance between sleep and muscle growth.
A good circadian rhythm leads to a lot of positive changes within the body. For instance,
● Melatonin is the hormone responsible for making us feel sleepy and tired. A good circadian rhythm would ensure you would start melatonin production around the same time every night, thus going to sleep at a consistent time.
● A good circadian rhythm would encourage your body to stop producing urine at night. Thus, you can sleep soundly without waking up in the wee hours to take a wee!
● Cortisol is a stimulating hormone. When you have established a good circadian rhythm, your body stops producing cortisol at night, and starts again a couple hours before your scheduled wake up time. This ensures you have a deep sleep, and wake up energized to take on the day.
● A circadian rhythm is what turns your sleep schedule from something you force your body to do, to a habit that that your body follows on autopilot. It frees up a lot of mental space as how and when you falls asleep or wake up would no longer be something you have to plan for.
The key to unlocking good sleep is to establish a good circadian rhythm. Practice sleep hygiene and maintain consistency, till your body learns the cues and can function without them.
Recommended: If you want to learn more about sleep hygiene, the team at Sleepopolis has prepared a 30-Day Sleep Hygiene Plan to help you get better sleep with their 30 days sleep challenge.
Working Out to Sleep Better
Here I was, telling you about the benefits of sleep to improve workouts and muscle gain. But, to get better sleep, working out could actually prove to be a useful tool. It is a bit of a cycle, it turns out.
Weight training and cardio are particularly great for improving the quality of your sleep. Not only would you fall asleep quicker and not wake up in the middle of the night, but you would also get the deep restorative sleep you desire.
Just avoid working out the few hours before going to bed, as you’d be too alert and pumping adrenaline to fall asleep.
You could be working out like crazy, guzzling the best protein shakes, taking the best gainer supplements in the market, but something as simple as sleep could be the gamechanger in your muscle building routine.
Getting quality sleep (everyday, not once in a blue moon!) will work wonders to bring your physical and mental health into equilibrium, and serve as a nitro boost for hypertrophy without you shelling out a single penny!
In conclusion, don’t skimp out on sleep if you wish to recover better. And since sleep and muscle growth are directly related, try getting optimum sleep everyday and gain lean muscle mass faster and quicker.
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Dipanjana’s tryst with fitness and nutrition started way back in high school when she developed an interest in reading about workout routines and diets. A postgraduate student of Literature, Dipanjana has studied Nutrition alongside- both as part of her University curriculum as well as online certificate courses. When she is not working out, Dipanjana can usually be found writing blogs and screenplays or napping amidst a sea of pillows.
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