Everybody enjoys going to the gym and pouring their hearts and souls into their training sessions. After all, it is this intense training that causes your body to grow, right? Wrong.
If it’s not the intense training, then it must be supplements! Buying all the latest and greatest, most expensive supplements on the market would surely get your muscles to grow faster than they would with any kind of training, right? Wrong, again.
So, if supplements and training are not the deciding factors of muscle gains, then that just leaves nutrition. Not quite…
Sorry for taking you on such a ride only to tell you that all of the above is not the most important factors to growing as much as you possibly can.
Everything that has been mentioned is important for growth, but one thing that rises above them all is sleep.
Just like you can’t out train a bad diet, you can’t compensate for a lack of sleep with a good workout program and nutritional plan.
Without getting adequate amounts of sleep and rest, your results will lack and your performance will suffer along with it.
What is the Purpose of Sleep?
For the average person, sleep is what they do to get some rest in after a long day. For the bodybuilder, sleep is a tool that is utilized for growth.
An educated bodybuilder knows that without getting enough sleep in, his efforts spent in the gym equate to minimal results.
Sleep Repairs Damaged Muscles
The time spent sleeping at night can be quite catabolic. Muscle tissue is broken down to provide the stomach with amino acids because you’re essentially putting your body through starvation.
This can be quite detrimental to your gains. One way of putting this effect off is by consuming protein before you go to sleep, specifically, casein.
While you sleep, growth hormone is secreted during your deepest sleeping cycles. This is usually the first few hours of sleep. Up to 70% of your daily growth hormone secretion comes while you’re sleeping.
The Brain Gets Recharged
Believe it or not, but the brain actually rests while you’re sleeping, despite having dreams and such.
Adenosine, the neurotransmitter that produces ATP, signals the brain to tell it that it’s time to take a break and catch some rest.
When adenosine concentrations within the brain rise and then decline, it means that the brain is actually resting.
During this period of low adenosine concentrations, your brain is busy recharging as it is not in a state of alertness.
For bodybuilders, getting sleep and recharging their brains could be highly beneficial for them to maintain alertness in the gym as well as the motivation to endure a grueling workout.
The Stages of Sleep
If you haven’t heard, our brains follow cycles during the periods that we spend sleeping. These cycles are categorized as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM sleep. Cycles can last anywhere from 90-100 minutes each.
Before I lose you, here’s the definition of REM:
“Rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep, REMS) is a unique phase of sleep in mammals and birds, characterized by random movement of the eyes, low muscle tone throughout the body, and the propensity of the sleeper to dream vividly.” – Wikipedia.
How Much Sleep Do You Need for Bodybuilding?
To answer that, we need to first look at the various stages of sleep.
- Stage 1 – The transitional stage between being awake and being asleep. This stage is typically the shortest stage of the 4 stages. Stage 1 is also non-REM sleep.
- Stage 2 – Stage 2 is also a non-REM sleeping stage but makes up for about 45-60% of your total time spent sleeping.
- Stages 3 & 4 – Non-REM stages of sleep make up for around 40% of your time spent sleeping. These stages are where the deepest sleep occurs and the recharging of the brain takes place.
- REM – During this phase, brain activity, heart rate, and breathing increases as it is the most active stage of sleep.
Bodybuilders primarily sleep with one goal in mind, and that goal is to recover from workouts.
During stages 3 and 4 of sleep, our bodies are at complete rest. During this time, REM also occurs. A lack of REM during these stages can provide some problems for your mental recovery.
When you’re in the REM stage of your sleep, the body becomes paralyzed due to the activation of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the pons, which then is responsible for activating the medulla.
As we grow older, the amount of REM sleep that we get decreases. Newborn babies usually experience a 50% REM sleep per night. By the time that we reach adulthood, that amount decreases to around 20-25%.
Growth in Babies
Research has not concluded on this, but the growth that occurs in the time period that babies transition into childhood could suggest that REM provides positive benefits and effects for growth.
This could be why bodybuilders prioritize their sleep so much. Although science hasn’t written it in stone, the evidence provided by babies and children is more than enough to convince any lifter that getting adequate amounts of sleep is beneficial to add more muscle mass.
Tips on How to Get Better Sleep
It’s possible that you may be sleeping at night but without the added benefit of recharging your brain or repairing your damaged muscle cells. This could be due to the fact that you’re not getting into the deep stages of sleep.
So, below are few ways to help you get into a deeper sleep that will ultimately benefit your mind and gains:
- Keep your evenings relaxed.
- Try to correct your sleeping environment by adjusting the room temperature to around 60 degrees or having soft ambient sounds playing.
- Take a warm bath as it will help you to relax.
- Skip the alcohol and caffeine during the night time. Caffeine we all know will keep you awake, but alcohol has an interfering effect on the stages of sleep.
- Avoid oversleeping. By oversleeping, your body will adapt to a different sleeping cycle.
To answer the question, for bodybuilding purposes, getting about 7-10 hours of sleep is sufficient. However, 40% of your sleep should be a deep sleep. If you’re not getting into stages 3 and 4 of sleep, then your lack of gains and mental awareness will suffer as a result.
If you struggle to fall asleep or don’t have peaceful sleeps, try utilizing one or two of the points above to help prepare your body and mind for the four stages of sleep.
Also, try to set a bedtime for yourself. By doing this, you’re effectively setting a sleeping routine for your body to follow, which will help you achieve successful sleeping cycles.