The Integral Role Of Sleep On Muscle Development
You might not necessarily think of sleep as being an integral part of achieving your fitness goals, asides perhaps, from making sure you had the energy required to push yourself during your workouts! However, getting enough shut-eye each evening is an integral part of creating and maintaining a strong, defined and capable body.
In fact, it doesn’t matter what your fitness goals are, sleep is going to play an important role in just how successful you are in achieving the results you are after.
Firstly, let’s have a look at some of the key benefits sleep provides us with and just how these tie into fitness:
- Mental Alertness – Ever tried sitting a test, playing a game of chess, or accomplishing an obstacle course after little to no sleep? It is extremely challenging trying to clear the fog of exhaustion so that we can focus, no matter what the task is. Sleep allows you to recharge and reboot your brain so that you feel fresh and ready for the next day.
- Tissue Repair – During sleep your body works to replace ageing or dead cells within your body. They say that every 7 years all the cells in your body have been replaced, well, that’s all happening in your sleep!
- Synthesise Hormones – When you are sleeping your body increases its secretion of some hormones, such as Human Growth Hormone (HGH), prolactin and luteinizing hormone, whilst simultaneously inhibiting the secretion of other hormones, such as Cortisol and Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH).
- Build Muscle – Because of the increased level of HGH during sleep (Men release between 60-70% of their daily HGH during sleep!), it stands to reason that this is the time in which muscles are being built.
There are numerous other integral ways in which sleep supports the functioning of our body, as Chris Kresser talks about in this article. However, today I want to focus specifically on the role sleep plays in the production of HGH and how this impacts your ability to develop and maintain lean muscle mass.
So, what exactly is HGH and how does it work, you ask?
HGH, also known as ‘somatotropin’, is an amino acid that is produced in the brain by your pituitary gland. As you develop from an infant into an adult, HGH plays an important role in the development of your skeletal system. Because of this, your HGH levels are high when you are a child and peak during adolescence, which is why you get those ‘growth spurts’. As we age our levels of HGH naturally start to decrease and have dropped by around 20% by the age of 60.
HGH is responsible for cell growth and regeneration, which is why it is so important when it comes to the repair and growth of muscle fibres. Without HGH in your body, the growth of your muscles would be impossible!
When the hormone is secreted into your bloodstream, it only remains active for a few minutes. However, this is all the time that is needed for your liver to kick in and convert the somatotropin into growth factors, such as Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1), which contains a host of anabolic properties.
So, the bottom line is this: Without HGH in your body, the repair and growth of lean muscle mass would be impossible.
The large majority of your daily HGH (up to 70%) is released whilst you are sleeping. Which means that it stands to reason that getting enough shut-eye on a regular basis is an even more important consideration for people who are training regularly, or who work in a physically demanding job.
The average adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep per day. If you miss out on sleep as a one off, your body will compensate and cope, however, having insufficient sleep on a regular basis is going to seriously impact on your body’s ability to recover after a tough training session. What would normally take 24-48 hours for your DOMs (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) to subside, could take twice as long, if not more!
There is good news though. If you find that you cannot fit all the hours of sleep you require into one sitting (or lying!), then you can make up for this by taking a 45 – 90-minute nap during the day. This is because the majority of the HGH is released during the first hour or so of sleep, so by napping during the day, you are encouraging another burst of HGH for your liver to convert into IGF-1, so that your body can get to rebuilding and repairing any muscle fibers you may have damaged during your training.
How is that for a good excuse to enjoy an afternoon siesta?
So what I am getting at here is this: If you have any kind of fitness related goal, e.g. shedding pounds, building muscle, gaining strength, endurance and definition, then you are going to need to reflect on your sleeping patterns and make sure you are getting the hours your body needs to get you where you want to be.
Unfortunately though, when it comes to getting enough sleep, not everyone finds it easy.
There are many factors that need to be taken into consideration such as health, family (e.g. newborns and young children), shift work and stress, as well as numerous other factors that can affect a person’s ability to get a good night’s sleep.
If you are one of those people that often find they struggle nodding off when they need to, then here are some tips to help you get the most of your down time:
- Avoid Electronics – Bright lights, including the ‘blue light’ emitted from your computer, iPad and smartphone, all work to suppress the secretion of melatonin in your body. Melatonin is another hormone produced in your pineal gland, that is responsible for your sleep and awake cycle. The secretion of it helps your body unwind and prepare for sleep. So dim your household lights and avoid staring at a screen for at least an hour before you plan to go to sleep. This will help your body go through the natural motions of preparing to shut down for the day.
- Avoid Stimulants – Naturally, caffeine found in some soft drinks, tea and coffee are going to stimulate you and make it more difficult to shut down. So if you know you struggle to get to sleep in the evenings, then avoid any stimulants for at least a few hours before bedtime. Alcohol is also a stimulant and can disrupt your ability to drift off and sleep through until morning.
- Create A Routine – Even if you are not the kind of person who enjoys routine, your body will respond well to it. So if you know you struggle sleeping in the evenings, set your alarm for the same time each morning and give yourself a set bedtime that you aim for each evening. It can take a few days or even a week or so for your body to adjust, but having a routine will help your body start to naturally unwind and prepare for sleep as that time approaches each day.
- Take Time To Relax – If you know you struggle drifting off in the evening, then make some time before you actually go to bed to do something relaxing. Try practicing a relaxation meditation, enjoy a hot bath or even switch massages with a partner or friend. Anything that helps you let go of the hustle and bustle of your day so that your mind and body can unwind and relax, ready for a good night’s sleep!