Let’s say you hit the gym 3 to 5 times a week, perform the best workout possible, meal prep all your bland broccoli, milkshake, and chicken breast alongside an expensive whey protein powder you bought from eBay, and yet, there just seems to be no visible signs of muscle gains.
Meanwhile, your gym pal who started getting in shape about the same time as you, performs almost exactly the same workout routines as you do, is now somewhat comparable to Ronnie Coleman.
How is this possible? The answer is straightforward. While you’ve developed the habit of staying up late, binge-watching the new trending TV series, or playing your favorite video game for hours at night, your gym pal is hard at work, sleeping.
If you’re doubting, let’s look at what your body does when sleeping and why sleep is important for body-building.
Sleep is categorized into four phases. The first two phases are the dozing and light sleep part. While the last two have to do with deep sleep and waking. Here is how they work.
When we fall asleep, we pass through in to the first phase, which is light sleep. In this phase, our brain lowers Alpha waves and instead raises Theta waves, thus, causing our eyes to start closing. However, we’re often half-conscious at this stage, which means we could be easily woken up if touched or disturbed by a sound. After this phase, our body proceeds to the next one.
During the second phase, we become unconscious of what is happening in the outside world. This is because of the spindle that fully characterized this stage of sleep. It is when the brain learns and assimilates what we learned before the time of rest.
For instance, if you practiced a skill about playing drums, that’s when the brain will fully absorb everything. After that, our body passes into the third phase.
The third phase is known as Slow Wave or Deep sleep. This comes between 1-3 hours after sleep. During this phase, 20% of our brain activities are being overridden by the sleep, and our brain waves are converted to Delta waves.
Deep sleep is when we get full rest, when repairs and recovery happens, repairs like skin and muscle. It is the most vital phase of all the sleep phases. After the third stage, your body will take you through the first and second phases again before landing you at the fourth phase, known as REM (Rapid Eye Movement).
This is the last stage of sleep where the limbs and muscles become relaxed, and our eyes start rolling to and fro. It’s the phase when we get to wake up. These four phases repeat the cycle on and on as we sleep at night.
Importance of Sleep On Muscle Building
Everybody wants to focus on all the details, sets, reps, methods, the best equipment, etc. Now, all that stuff’s important, don’t get me wrong. However, if you don’t have the basics, which is sleep, you’re leaving a lot on the table.
Put differently, if your goal is to build muscle or lose body fat (get shredded sleep is probably the missing link to help you reach your goals. Here are some reasons why sleep is so important to building muscle.
1. Increased Testosterone levels
The first benefit of having a quality sleep each day is the positive effect it has on your testosterone levels. And how does testosterone influence muscle gain? Testosterone is a hormone manufactured in the testes and adrenal glands in men and in lower amounts in women’s ovaries. Testosterone moves into the bloodstream and moves throughout the body.
As this free testosterone circulates around the body, it can enter into cells and bind with androgen receptors. Androgen receptors are located throughout the body, including in muscle fibers. It is this binding of testosterone with the receptors, that are responsible for the development of men’s secondary sex characteristics, such as:
- Facial hair growth
- Voice deepening
- Broad shoulders
- Feeling energetic, and
- Huge muscle mass
What does this mean? In short, testosterone is directly related to muscle mass which means that depriving yourself of sleep can cost you all of the above, including building more muscle mass. Thus, regardless of your workout regimen and meals, you stand very little chance of making visible muscle gains or having the energy to perform well at the gym without having quality sleep daily.
How Testosterone Impacts Performance
Testosterone also powers a lot of the competitive instincts which will drive you to succeed in everything you do. The bottom line is that testosterone levels significantly impact the entire strength training process; hence, some athletes go the extra mile and inject themselves with steroids, such as synthetically modified testosterone for increased muscle mass and strength.
If you don’t have a quality sleep daily, your strength level will reduce drastically in the gym. Once this happens, you won’t have the energy to engage in core workouts, which are capable of causing significant tears to your muscle fibers for bigger growth, when repaired.
2. Protein Synthesis and Tissue Repairs
The Human Growth Hormone (HGH) plays a significant role in overall growth and recovery like skin development, organ development, muscle development, etc. but, what most people don’t know is how that growth process works.
In our body, we have pulses of growth hormone in little bursts every three to five hours.
During that time, the pituitary gland signals this release, hence the production of the little pulses. However, most of the growth hormone is released during a sleep stage known as Slow Wave Sleep(SWS) or Deep Sleep.
SWS is a sleep phase that happens shortly after the onset of sleep. It is the deepest stage of sleep when 70% of growth hormones are secreted. These growth hormones stimulates your body to produce growth factor which are essential for muscle repair. This is another reason you need to focus on getting the best quality of sleep daily when looking to make substantial muscle gains.
As a noteworthy fact, regardless of what you’ve heard, a 5 hours of sleep (short), and an 8 hours of sleep (long), all have the same effect on muscle gains. This is because deep sleep is when 70% of muscle growth occurs, often occurs 1-3 hours into when we sleep. So short or long, it doesn’t matter. However, that’s not to say having a short night sleeps daily is an ideal lifestyle for muscle gains.
The point is that having a couple of short night sleeps like once or twice a week won’t hurt your gains. Instead, you should ensure that your long night ratio to short ones ranges at about 6:1 or 5:2 weeklies. Nothing more than that.
3. Efficient Nutrient Absorption
In the night, insulin is secreted in the body to process complex carbohydrates which are in turn moved store-houses and excess. After a bad night of sleep, your body is not able to process complex carbohydrates as efficiently, which may cause you to become insulin resistant. When this happens, the body-building diet that you’ve been taking like a milkshake with a peanut butter sandwich, which should generally work under the right sleep conditions, will not be fully absorbed when you’re sleep-deprived.
And as a result of your insulin-resistant state, your blood sugar will be on the increase, which will then cause you to be fat. The insulin in your body will not be able to process the extra fatty acids and lipids and consequently, the fat is stored. When you’re overweight, your body won’t drive as much glucose into glycogen cells. Thus, you’ll start feeling fatigued and less motivated to workout. All these can be avoided when you have a healthy sleeping pattern.
High-quality sleep is essential for optimal muscle growth, here are some helpful tips.
Tips to Having Quality Sleep
No matter how small the light rays in your room, whether it’s a tiny green light from an energy bulb or a reflection off your TV, it’s crucial that you switch them off, to have a quality sleep. If the light is there for some reason best known to you, and you feel the need to keep it all through the night, then put on a face mask, or better still, get some blackout curtains to block the light rays from entering your room. Bottom line, get creative, and do just about anything to prevent the light from entering your eyes.
We are all born with a circadian rhythm, which regulates our body to a cooler temperature at night, before leading us into a deep sleep. However, the rhythm can’t control our body temperature when we are sleeping in a hot room. Thus, before sleeping, open your windows for proper ventilation. If that’s a big deal for you, switch your room’s fan/AC to an average cooling speed all night long. This way, deep sleep is guaranteed.
If you have a noisy neighbor, this may pose a significant challenge to your quality of sleep. Nevertheless, you can drain out the noise by using earplugs or soundproofing your room. This will help you get quality, uninterrupted sleep every day.
Drinking liquid substances like alcohol before sleeping will impact your REM sleep because it’s a diuretic that wakes many people up at night. There is no way you can have a quality sleep this way. If you must drink, it should be sleeping tea. This is an ideal choice because sleeping teas often contain a lavender chamomile substance, which enhances proper sleep.
In a nutshell, when it comes to muscle gains, lifting is the stimulus, while sleep is the pathway to muscle growth and recovery. Thus, while you’re all out there in the gym, working yourself off, stuffing your refrigerator with all sorts of body-building foods, always remember to invest the same energy into sleeping.