Why you all need plenty of Z’s to build muscle!

Sleep. Is the single most overlooked part of training and performance and yet is arguably one of the most important if not in the top 3 things you need to get right in order to gain muscle mass. Not only does it help up-regulate and control testosterone levels but it is THE ONLY TIME THAT YOUR MUSCLE ACTUALLY GROWS!

Okay now that we have made that perfectly clear let’s look back at why we don’t get enough sleep. I blame two main media or cultural influences in young men (and women, don’t worry ladies I haven’t forgotten you, most of you are just smart enough not to be lulled over by these two overly masculine pissing tests.)

1. The Navy Seal or military culture of I don’t sleep, or I don’t need to sleep. Sleep is for the weak.

2. Arnold Schwarzenegger, “you sleep 6 hours and you have 18 hours left… Complaining I sleep 8 hours or 9 hours. Just sleep faster I would recommend.”

Now hold on fellas. I’m not knocking either the military or Arnie I have huge respect for both. In just saying when it comes to their views on sleep it is seriously misguided. Sleep has been proven time and time again to be the single best thing to make you better at anything. Practiced the piano? Sleeping will help you memorize it. Studying for an exam? Same thing. Want to build muscle? Sleep will help you recover faster and actually allow growth to occur and this you not only get more muscle but you also can train again soon to start building even more.

Image result for arnold sleeping

So how much sleep do you actually need. Currently we recommend 7-8 hours per night, every night. However is you have trained intensely that day, then you need to add an extra hour of sleep for every hour of training. So if you did 1 tough session its 8-9 hours, 2 sessions is 9-10 hours. So for 99% of you out there getting 8 hours a night will cover this no problem. And before you ask, to gain the most muscle its best to do 1 session a day of hard work and if you need more then go and do a relaxed, steady pace or recovery focused session on top of that. Always focus on the daily grind and the accumulation over the month and year, you cannot build Rome in a day with muscle. Its a long game.

So what is happening while you sleep to help you gain muscle?

Your body is primed to build muscle in deep sleep. Not only is around 60-70% of your daily Growth Hormone (in males) secreted during deep sleep but also your body is boosting testosterone levels, and providing you had some source of protein before bed, protein synthesis is primed and ready to rock right along side this hormonal shift. Combining these three factors, having good quality sleep is an instant boost for your muscle gain. But its not just the fact that you grow in this sleep period that makes the difference, its the fact that your energy levels and glycogen stores replenish providing yo are refueling with quality food. This allows you to recover faster and train again tomorrow or the next day, accumulating lots of focused hours of muscle strain and tension each time you do so. This large scale accumulation of work over months will result in one thing, Muscle Mass.

*On a side note, work with the Navy Seal teams showes that even in athletic, highly active males, one night of sleep deprivation (less than 5 hours sleep) reduced their testosterone levels by 70%.

The other thing to consider here is the fact that sleep helps with mental sharpness and alertness. Being alert and sharp mentally in training allows you to be more focused. Being more focused means you can train harder or smarter, thus hitting the muscle with more ‘stress’ and causing more growth response from your particular training programme.

Tips for sleep and muscle gain:

  • Get 8 hours per night, every night.
  • Make sure to block out all light sources (including your phone) and even wear an eye mask if needed.
  • Try to keep cool, we enter a deeper sleep cycle in cooler climates
  • Cancel out all noise, where you can, just don’t use this as an excuse to turn off your alarm.
  • Have some form of protein before bed, be it in shake form or food to provide the amino acids for protein synthesis needed to build muscle
  • Have some carbs before bed, this will help provide energy overnight and thus reduce the levels of protein breakdown in the body to use for fuel meaning all protein is used to build muscle. Use oats or something slow release and low in sugar. This also aids recovery.
  • Stay hydrated. Muscle is 70% water
  • Avoid sleeping pills – most knock you unconscious and thus you get no deep sleep activity and no hormonal response.
  • Avoid caffeine before bed
  • Avoid intense late night training sessions when you can

Some people will advise you to get up and have a shake in the middle of the night if you are a so called ‘hard gainer.’ It is my belief that the sleep is more important, so I would advise you not to interrupt the sleep cycle and just make sure to have something before bed and as soon as you get up. Especially if you find it hard to dose off.

Best advice – keep it simple. Sleep 8 hours a night and eat before bed. Do that and your body and muscle will thank you.

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