How much does sleep affect muscle building? Surya Iacono explains

Plenty of people assume that the more gym sessions they pack in, the more muscle they will build. And while time and consistency are important for all fitness regimes, and particularly when you want to build muscle, it is not true that working out more automatically gives you better results. 

Sleep is overlooked by many people in day to day life, and many keen gym goers simply don’t know that good sleep is critical for muscle gains and fitness. It’s also very important for increasing mass and performing better. 

What is the link between sleep and muscle growth? 

The primary reason sleep is so important for muscle growth lies with how we process glucose. This is a kind of sugar stored in our bodies that we use for energy. It’s the only type that the human body can use for energy, as other sugar types become glucose before being processed. When we sleep, blood glucose stores itself in our muscles as ‘muscle glycogen’. We also store glucose in our liver and blood, but it prefers to be in the muscles for maximum energy release. 

Sleep is also vital for the body to effectively use human growth hormone (HGH), which is a compound that helps muscles to recover and grow. It is also important for the body to use the amino acids we eat in protein. And it’s during sleep that it floods our bloodstream. Without decent quality sleep, and without enough of it, our bodies can’t perform these functions properly. 

Less sleep means loss of muscle mass

So, we know that sleep helps muscles to become bigger and stronger, but more disturbingly, they can shrink if we don’t get enough sleep. Research in 2011 looked at sleep deprivation and how it affects muscles in terms of growth and recovery. The study followed people who kept to a strict schedule of sleep for 72 hours: one group with 5.5 hours of sleep a night and another with 8.5 hours. 

Every person in the study also followed a calorie counted diet. Researchers found that the group sleeping juts 5.5 hours a night lost 60% of their muscle mass during the study. The group that slept for 8.5 hours, on the other hand, had 40% more muscle mass. 

This is a clear example of just how much affect sleep has on our muscle growth and loss. 

Bad sleep patterns also affect performance

It’s not just muscle gains that are affected by sleep. According to research by Dr Bert Jacobson in 2008, poor sleep will adversely affect energy levels and leads to mood swings. There is scientific evidence to support the hypothesis that poor mood can directly affect athletic performance too, so this is important for improving yours. 

Decent sleep is vital for both gaining muscle and for peak performance in the gym or during training. Bad sleep means a lack of energy and a low mood, both of which lead to poor technique, sub optimal levels of effort and slower muscle growth. 

Despite all of this, many people in the fitness industry overlook just how important sleep is. It is one of the vital pillars of proper training and should be a priority. Here are some tips for better sleep: 

  1. Don’t do high-intensity exercise before you go to bed

High-intensity exercise will boost your energy levels, so this shouldn’t be done less than three hours before you intend to go to sleep. This isn’t just going to the gym, but could include jogging, fast walking, gardening or housework. 

  1. Keep a tight sleep schedule

Get up and go to bed at the same time every day. Any other sleep pattern can mess with your circadian rhythm, which is the natural 24-hour cycle. 

  1. Try a protein shake before you go to bed. 

Because the body finds it harder to break down protein when you’re asleep, which slows muscle growth, drink a protein shake before bed. This provides your body with protein in a more easily digestible form. 

About Surya Gabriel Iacono

Surya G. Iaconois a fitness and wellness expert and blogger based in London, UK. Surya's fitness blogs are aimed at keen gym-goers and exercise fans already well into their journey and looking for tips, tricks and ideas to take it to the next level.