The formula for gaining lean muscle mass is simple – Train, eat, sleep, repeat.
All too often, people focus on the gym and the kitchen to change their body composition, but the truth is, what happens while you sleep matters just as much, if not more.
New research shows that sleep is more effective at increasing lean muscle because of its role in the rest and recovery stage of training. It’s during sleep where the real repair and growth takes place that helps you change your body composition and increase strength once and for all.
Now you might be thinking, but Kelly, I’m not a good sleeper, so is the opposite happening? The answer is a big fat YES. Being sleep deprived encourages the loss of muscle mass and hinders recovery after a tough workout. If you’re sleep deprived long enough, it can even lead to weight gain and the countless health issues that arise with obesity.
So if you’re not seeing the results you feel like you should have in the gym, then it’s time to take a close look at your sleep. Otherwise, you could be wasting your time getting in those extra reps.
So how does the sleep and muscle growth process actually work and what can you do tonight to get those biceps, quads and calves that you’ve been dreaming about?
Learn how pivotal sleep is for muscle growth and what you need to know in order to make the most of your time in bed.
If you’re a bodybuilder, athlete, weight lifter or someone simply looking to improve their physique, then this post is for you.
How to Develop Muscle?
To get started, consider what two functions your body needs in order to develop lean muscle. The first is Stimulus and the second is Repair.
The first phase takes place while you exercise. As you workout your muscles through weight-bearing movements, microscopic tears develop within the muscle fibers. These tears lead to damage of the muscle, which is considered the stimulus required for the body to trigger a response.
Once the stimulus occurs, your body receives a signal to begin repairing the muscles. The repair stage is when your muscles go through the process of hypertrophy, which involves tissue conditioning & formation of new muscle matrix. Proper repair requires nutrition, hydration, and rest
Although some people may feel that they’re resting by watching Netflix on the couch, the truth is the only real way to let your body truly rest and recover properly is through high-quality sleep.
Yet not all sleep is created equal, especially when it comes to muscle repair.
Sleep for Muscle Repair
While you sleep, you cycle through four stages of sleep every 90 minutes or so. No matter what, it’s important that all four stages take place for total mind and body repair, but there’s one stage that’s hyper critical for muscle growth. That stage is slow wave sleep otherwise known as deep sleep. This is the last stage of Non-REM sleep and takes place right before you begin dreaming in REM sleep.
In a healthy sleeper, slow wave sleep comprises of approximately 40% of total sleep time and the majority of it happens in the first half of the night. During this stage, your blood pressure drops, your breathing becomes deeper and the activity in your brain slows down. By doing so, the blood supply becomes more available to your muscles, bringing with it, extra oxygen and nutrients that facilitate healing and growth.
During slow wave sleep, two critical anabolic hormones are released that aid in the reproduction and generation of cells. These are testosterone and human growth hormone or HGH for short. Both of which are primarily produced while you sleep and then taper off during the day.
Now these hormones are so important to this conversation, we’re going to do a little deep dive into them.
First, testosterone. Now testosterone is necessary for protein synthesis, which is what repairs all those little microscopic tears in your muscles from your workout. Although your body does produce testosterone during exercise, sleep helps to keep your levels high and it also provides the longest period of time your body has between meals to really work at synthesizing.
Likewise, as much as 75% of your human growth hormone is released while you’re resting at night. HGH is the primary compound that stimulates tissue growth during hypertrophy. It does this using the amino acids present in the proteins that we eat, which are being synthesized with the help of testosterone. Even one night of sleep loss will cause a sharp decline in the secretion of HGH, which will not only lead to a loss of muscle mass but also a reduction in exercise capacity.
So not only will you not get stronger but your current exercise abilities will be reduced if you’re not getting enough deep sleep.
Now another hormone that sleep influences is cortisol, which is a catabolic or muscle-reducing hormone that counteracts testosterone, stops the production of melatonin and is most associated with feelings of stress. Getting enough sleep keeps your cortisol levels balanced during a 24-hour period leaving you with enough energy for your training sessions and more opportunity for muscle growth. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, can increase your cortisol levels by up to 45%, which can interfere with tissue repair and growth, while also leaving you feeling unnecessarily stressed or anxious.
Over time, these hormonal imbalances will prevent an athlete from recovering properly and can open the door to overtraining injuries.
Sleep for Mental and Emotional Stability
It should also be mentioned that your mental and emotional stability are both important when training. It is, after all, easier to grind out a workout when you’re enjoying the process and happy to be at the gym. If you’re not getting adequate rest, your mood will suffer and you’ll be less motivated to workout. Your nervous system will also be drained and unable to handle the stress of a heavy workout, leaving you more likely to hang out on the couch making poor life choices.
So not only should you prioritize sleep to grow your muscles but you should also prioritize sleep so that you’re prepared to grow your muscles. To do so, make sure you’re getting 7-9 hours every night, sticking to a schedule, getting to sleep by 10 to increase deep sleep, reducing stress before bed, sleeping in a cool, dark environment and finishing your last workout and meal at least a few hours before bed.
The Bottom Line
To recap why, when it comes to increasing lean muscle mass, getting consistent high-quality sleep will do the following:
- It will increase your body’s secretion of the anabolic hormones testosterone and human growth hormone
- It will deliver extra oxygen and nutrients to your body
- It will build new cells and replenish torn muscle tissue
- And it will decrease the catabolic hormone of cortisol
If you do these things by focusing on sleep, you will change your body composition, increase muscle mass, recover faster, and be better prepared for your next training session or athletic endeavor.
Kelly is a Performance Sleep Coach who works with athletes, entrepreneurs, and people looking to optimize their rest for ultimate energy and recovery. With a background in holistic health and wellness, she blends ancient principles with modern sleep science to help her clients overcome insomnia, daytime fatigue, and disturbed sleep.