The Importance of Sleep for Training Performance Gains

You are a gym enthusiast. You carefully measure the optimal protein intake to maximize your muscle growth. You take the highest quality anabolic supplements and strictly follow the workout dictated by your personal trainer. Still, you didn’t gain as much as you hoped for. What went wrong? According to Nick Ebner, a prominent fitness trainer, sleep is equally important for muscle gain as exercising and healthy diet. Find out what happens during sleep that helps build muscle gain and how to ensure a healthful night's sleep.

Why is Sleep Important for Muscle Gain?

You should never think about sleep as an intruder into your work, play or leisure activities. Sleep is vital for staying healthy. In order to meet the demands of daily activities, lots and lots of essential nutrients are being spent. The only way to replenish those lost nutrients is through food and sleep.  During sleep, our body rebuilds and recharges, preparing us for the day ahead. Deep stages of sleep are particularly relevant to bodybuilders and gym enthusiasts because, during deep sleep, muscle repair and anabolic growth occur.

During sleep, the brain recharges. This is also very important for building muscle because a rested mind is a motivated and focused mind. Simply put, when you sleep, you recover. When you recover you replace, repair, and rebuild muscles. All three are needed for optimal training performance progress.

Do Muscles Grow Only During Sleep?

Muscles don’t grow specifically during sleep. When you exercise on a daily basis, your body is continually breaking down and rebuilding muscle. This happens even if you don’t train at all. However, the key to gaining muscle by hitting the sack is that during various stages of sleep, your muscles break down and rebuild faster.

For example, in some cycles of sleep, the body releases androgenic hormones into the bloodstream at drastically higher levels than when you're awake. Androgenic hormones are essential both for muscle recovery and protein synthesis. Simply put, sleeping is like getting a natural hit of steroids in the middle of the night.

Levels of hormones, especially testosterone, are highest during REM sleep, also known as rapid eye movement. REM sleep lasts longer than other sleep stages and becomes more intense later in sleep cycles.

Resting in bed won’t lead to this hormonal release because it occurs only during REM sleep. However, getting rest after a workout is good for you because you need to relax your muscles.

What Happens to My Muscles If I Don’t Get Enough Sleep?

People, who don’t sleep 7 to 8 hours a night or have troubles with interrupted sleep, tend to test lower for anabolic hormones such as testosterone. However, this doesn’t mean you won’t build any muscle at all. Without sufficient sleep, muscle build will occur, but much slower.

When you are not getting enough sleep, muscle gain should actually be the least of your worries. Sleep is one of the most important things your body needs. You equally need sleep as you need food and water. In fact, people can go without food for 72 hours, but when it comes to losing 72 hours of sleep, you will already start to lose your mind and become delirious.

If you're having trouble sleeping, it is vital to consult with a medical professional and also try to improve your sleeping situation. Sleep is essential for your overall recovery and significantly impacts mental and physical performance.

Sleep Helps Muscle Injury Recovery

Muscle injury can happen to anybody at any time. However, it happens more often to athletes, weight lifters, and bodybuilders. Quality sleep is a significant aid that can speed up the recovery process and get you back in the game in no time.

A minor muscle injury can consist of a muscle pull, strain or tear. Pulls, strains, and tears occur in the muscle fibers or tendons. During injury, small blood vessels are damaged which can cause bruising, local building and, of course, irritating pain. Signs you have a muscle injury are swelling, bruising, redness, pain when resting or moving the affected muscle or joint, and weakness of the muscle. In some cases, you may even not be able to use that muscle at all. Also, the worse the pain, the bigger the injury.

The reason sleep is so helpful during the muscle recovery process is due to growth hormones and blood flow. Growth hormones help cell reproduction and regeneration. They also regulate your body’s metabolism to repair your muscles while you sleep. Since you are asleep and your general energy consumption is lowered, your body can put in more effort and energy to restore your bones and muscles. Muscle and bones restoration both occurs through an increase in growth hormone production and an increase in blood flow to the damaged area.

An interesting fact is that during wakefulness, most of our blood flow is sent to the heart and brain. However, in deep sleep, the 40% of usual blood flow that goes to the brain is now sent to the muscles to help restore energy. During deep sleep, a hormone Prolactin is released. Prolactin has anti-inflammatory properties that speed up joint recovery. This is why after a good night’s sleep, you feel refreshed and fully prepared for the day ahead of you. 

Can Sleep Be Optimized for Greater Muscle Gain?

The food we eat can also affect how well our muscle build and repair during sleep. As we sleep, and the energy consumption is decreased, our body is allowed to use high-quality food we ate during the day to build muscle. So, if you want to optimize your sleep for greater muscle gain, make sure you eat lots of protein and healthy foods. There is no need to eat before bed. In fact, heavy meals before bed may disturb your sleep. Sticking to your healthy diet is sufficient to optimize your sleep and gain muscles around 10% faster.

Foods that can both help you build muscle, stay healthy and have a better night’ sleep are bananas, dates, yogurt, oatmeal, turkey, tuna, chicken, and grapefruit. These foods are recommended for better sleep because they contain high amounts of an amino acid called tryptophan that is a natural precursor to serotonin. Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates our sleep and wake cycle.

Quick Sleep Tips for Gym Enthusiasts

The following sleep tips can be used right away to improve your odds of getting to sleep faster and staying asleep longer. These guidelines for quality sleep should be combined a progressive training schedule and healthy nutrition.

Relaxing Bed Routine

Since your day is full of stimulating activities, you should plan a gradual transition from stimulating activities to the ones that are less active. Things such as reading, listening to music, taking a warm bath or taking a walk 2 hours before bed may help you sleep better and fall asleep faster. You don’t have to have the same routine every night (this is only important for kids), but it is important to occur in roughly the same hours.

Comfortable Mattress

Regularly working out, lifting weights, or jogging will make your muscles sore. To take good care of your muscles, it is vital to sleep on a quality mattress. Bodybuilders and weight lifters usually prefer to sleep on a mattress of medium firmness that is cool and provides quality support. However, a wide range of factors impact how a mattress feels to different individuals. Luckily, Mattress Buying Guides can help you make an informed decision you won’t regret.

Sleep-Inducing Foods

Around 2 hours before bedtime, don’t eat heavy meals. If you are hungry, eat only foods that are rich in complex carbohydrates and tryptophan. Foods that contain vitamin B or a 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium may also help you sleep better. Caffeinated beverages and alcohol should be avoided at least 6 hours before going to bed.

No Exercise before Bedtime

Exercising in the evening is not recommended because it is an activity that stimulates your body and mind. All stimulating activities may disrupt your sleep, so it is best to avoid working out at least 4 to 6 hours before sleep. If your only option is to work out closely before bedtime, do it. Training closer to bed is definitely better than not exercising at all.

Tune Your Inner Clock

If you have troubles falling asleep or staying asleep, your circadian rhythm may be mistuned due to stress or hectic job and work out schedules. Try to tune your inner clock again by synchronizing your sleep and wake time with the sunlight. Sunlight is important because it stimulates the production of melatonin, and melatonin is a neurotransmitter that actually regulates our sleep and wake cycle.

Since it’s not possible to always go to sleep when the sun sets and wake up near the time when it rises, you can reinforce your basic sleep pattern by sleeping in a dark and quiet room, and expose yourself to bright sunlight when you wake up.

About the Author:

My name is Ben Trapskin, and I run Sleep Sherpa, a mattress review site that was created after I went through a rough period of sleepless nights. Since this took a major toll on my physical and psychological health, I have decided to embark on a mission to help people get a better night’s rest.

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