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Sleep and Rest for Muscle Gain?

Squeezing the Most Out of Every Minute is Bad for Muscle Gains

We live in a society that values multitasking. How many things can you check off your list and how involved can you be? An “on-the-go” mindset translates into our professional lives, our personal lives, and even our training programs. In an attempt to accomplish more, we often sacrifice sleep. We have a hard time saying ‘No’ and are therefore always responsible for another task. This lifestyle puts us under constant mental and physical stress.

Why does it matter? No Rest and High Stress hinder muscle growth!

You understand that in order to gain muscle you must lift weights and eat food. While the specifics of an exercise program and nutrition plan can vary, we have an understanding that these two components are essential when trying to gain size. Adequate sleep and low stress must also be included in your muscle growth blueprint.

Follow this time allocation rubric: Eat-Train-Eat-Sleep. You may need to add work and spending time with your significant others, but make sure to fit them in between the above segments.

How Does Sleep Affect Muscle Growth?

Given that we only have 24 hours in a day, we default to thinking that getting less sleep will allow us to recoup some time that we can allocate to other areas of our lives. Decreasing sleep can have drastic negative physiological, psychological, and emotional impacts. The effects of sleep deprivation can either be seen over time or may present immediately. Similarly, stress can occur with just one bad bout of sleep or it may be cumulative over days/week/months. Let’s review some negative effects that lack sleep causes.

  • Muscle Repair: During sleep, your body shifts from action mode into repair mode. An exercise bout breaks down muscle tissue. Food and sleep allow your body to rebuild this tissue. The rebuilt tissue becomes stronger and bigger in response to the training/recovery cycle. Without adequate sleep, your body does not have sufficient time to repair broken down muscle.

  • Decrease Metabolism: During sleep, your metabolism decreases. Decreases in metabolism allow your body to focus energy on vital functions. It does not have to power thoughts or digestion, so it can focus on tissue regeneration. Without sleep, your body acts like an engine that is constantly revved up. It won’t take long for a revved-up engine or body to break down.

  • Decreased Hormone Release: During sleep, your body releases large amounts of growth hormone and testosterone. These hormones play a dominant role in muscle growth. Failure to sleep enough causes a decline in their release and therefore a results in a declined ability in the muscle to grow.

    Types of Stress

    The stress response can be broken down into two categories: eustress and distress. Eustress is a positive response to stress that we can correlate too well being, hope, and satisfaction. A situation that seems like an achievable goal that you must stretch for will likely elicit a eustress response. Lifting weights and going for a run is often interpreted as Eustress.

    Negative responses to stress are deemed as Distress. Distress may result from one incident, but it usually builds over time. Constant periods of distress manifest in the body as well as the mind.

    For the remainder of this article, we will not differentiate between eustress and distress. When discussing stress, we will imply a negative, or distress, response.

    How Stress Can Affect Muscle Growth

    • Release of Cortisol: Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. It will be released by the body in preparation for ‘fight or flight’. Cortisol has a deleterious effect on blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. Constant stress means a constant release of cortisol which has a negative effect on muscle building and has been linked to increases in body fat.
    • Low-Grade Inflammation: Inflammation is a natural response to injury as the body attempts healing. Low-grade inflammation puts the body in constant defence mode, and like Cortisol can have a negative effect on your body’s ability to process sugar correctly. Stress, obesity, and certain foods can cause low-grade inflammation. Because your body feels it has to fight for recovery, it may not be able to focus on muscle growth.
    • Decrease Insulin Sensitivity: As we have discussed, stress either directly or indirectly alters insulin sensitivity. Suppressed insulin sensitivity alters your body’s ability to process sugar, and may lead to the body shuttling sugar into fat cells. When sugar cannot be moved into your muscles effectively, their ability to grow is hindered.
    • Decreased Immune System: Lack of sleep and high levels of stress decrease your immune system. A lowered immune system increases the chances of getting sick and also forces your body to defer any muscle-building efforts.


      Final Thoughts

      Lack of sleep and stress both work against your body when it is trying to gain mass. High levels of stress can cause a lack of sleep or it may be that lack of sleep contributes to stress. It is imperative that your stress is controlled and that you get quality sleep every night. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. You must get at least 6 hours in order to function properly and to enhance muscle growth. Read the following tips for getting better sleep and reducing stress.

      • Take time to refresh recuperate. Don’t be so buried by the to-do list that you miss workouts, camping, or leisure reading.

      • Meditate and take mental breaks throughout your day. Make time so that you can disconnect and focus on you.
      • Don’t try to “catch up” on sleep. Stick to a consistent sleep and wake cycle, even on weekends, so that your body can adjust to a regular rhythm.
      • No electronics at night. Research consistently shows that any screen time, even those on night mode, can be detrimental to your sleep cycle. Power down all electronics 20-60 minutes before you plan on going to sleep.
      • Set boundaries for your time. Don’t let work or other people’s schedule interfere with the time you set aside for yourself. Delete unnecessary emails, say no to dinner plans, and don’t volunteer for another business project.
      • Take naps. Professional bodybuilders often take naps in between training sessions because of rest fuels growth. A 20 to 30-minute nap will not interrupt your sleep cycle and it may provide just enough downtime for your body and mind to reset.

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