Muscles are made in the gym. Or is it more complicated than that?
We know that lifting weights increases muscle mass. We also know that nutrition plays a big part in either supporting or sabotaging muscle growth, but what about the role that sleep plays?
Experts recommend that the average person needs between 7 to 9 hours of rest each night, but getting enough sleep in the age of the internet is tough. Going to bed earlier may be harder to do than most people imagine.
Long-term sleep deprivation can have big implications for long-term health; it can increase a person’s risk of developing life-limiting or chronic illnesses as they age. We’ve all had that mental fog and experienced the sluggish physical state that comes from a poor night’s sleep, but you may be surprised to know that the amount of sleep you get also affects muscle growth. If you’re struggling to make gains, it’s worth looking at your sleeping strategy and trying to increase the amount of time you spend in bed.
This can feel counter-productive to anyone trying to maximise time in the gym but hear us out.
Why Sleep is Important for Muscle Growth
Our bodies and brain don’t just grind to a halt when we’re sleeping. Sleep is a restorative period where muscles can develop and any damage is repaired.
During sleep the brain increases blood flow to your muscles and releases the human growth hormone; it’s this hormone that grows the muscles worked on in the gym. Sleep is also a time where anti-inflammatories are released to aid in repair.
Sleep provides the body with an opportunity to build and repair. When a person doesn’t get enough sleep, this process is diminished and will affect overall muscle growth.
Muscle-growing hormones including testosterone are also released during sleep. The more sleep a person has the more muscle-growing hormones are released and utilised by the body. Less sleep means less opportunity for growth and can lead to a loss in protein.
It’s been shown that sleep deprivation means increased levels of cortisol – the stress hormone. Excess cortisol leads to protein breakdown: the exact opposite of what you want to happen when you’re trying to get bigger.
Poor sleep also means appetite hormones go askew. There’s a drop in the hormone that makes you feel full and an increase in the hormone that makes you feel hungry. This can affect a person’s ability to make sound nutritional decisions in support of physical fitness. If you’ve ever had a hangover and felt the need for salty or sugary snacks, you’ll recognise how our bodies can make it easier for us to sabotage progress.
Getting enough sleep is key to muscle growth and should factor as keenly as nutrition and weight volume in your training schedule.
You should also think about how a lack of sleep affects your performance and form during a gym session. Its easier to be distracted or to get sloppy when you haven’t had sufficient rest. This not only makes it harder for you to perform proficiently but it could also be dangerous.
Is 6 Hours Sleep Enough for Muscle Growth?
6 hours of decent sleep will mean some level of muscle growth. It’s also going to depend on what you’re doing in the gym and how you’re supporting your training with nutrition and lifestyle.
6 hours will get you some growth but aim for more to unlock a greater opportunity for muscle growth. Website Built with Science discussed the findings of a 2010 study where participants were split into 2 groups: those who had 5.5 hours of sleep per night and those who had 8.5 hours. Both groups were then put onto a calorie-restrictive diet for 2 weeks. The group averaging 5.5 hours sleep lost 60% more muscle mass and 55% less fat than the group achieving 8.5 hours of sleep each night.
6 hours of sleep won’t give you the best opportunity to increase muscle growth, and you may find that your progress is slower than others with higher quality and quantity of sleep each night.
Sleep could be what’s holding you back.
When we’re chasing our goals, it’s easy to forget that rest and restoration are key components to successful training. You might think that it’s okay to cut back on sleep just to get that extra workout in or to manage a busy schedule around your exercise regime, but you might be short-changing your progression.
6 hours sleep may be sufficient for some muscle growth but you may find your gains come more quickly by aiming for between 7 and 9 hours sleep each night. Most people average around 7.5 but experiment a little if you’re able and find the optimal sleeping pattern for you.
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