4 min read

How Important is Sleep for Building Muscle?

One of the most commonly neglected aspects of recovery is sleep. Read to discover why sleep is so important.
How Important is Sleep for Building Muscle?
Photo by Quin Stevenson / Unsplash

As bodybuilders and weightlifters, recovery is just as important, if not more important, than what we do in the gym.

It's similar to how everyone says abs are made in the kitchen; muscle is built and retained based on how you recover from your workouts in the gym.

One of the biggest pieces of the recovery puzzle just so happens to be sleep.

Sleep is super important for building muscle! Getting deep sleep at night produces extra growth hormones to help facilitate muscle and tissue recovery. Additionally, during deep sleep, the brain rests and allows blood flow to send more oxygen and nutrients to muscles for healing.

Study after study reveals evidence that backs this claim: sleep is crucial for muscle building. It doesn't matter what you do in the gym if you neglect to get deep sleep at night.

A study published in December 2017 concluded that poor sleep quality and lower quantities of sleep are associated with muscle mass reduction. In other words, less sleep means losing muscle.

This very same study also found that those who slept more enjoyed greater muscle strength; this was true for both males and females.

Outside of bodybuilding and weightlifting, sleep is still an extremely important activity that must be attended to. Not only does it help build muscle, but adequate sleep also lowers our risk for obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Conversely, sleep raises life expectancy.

Why is sleep important for building muscle?

We all know we have to go hard in the gym and lift some serious iron to get jacked, but I would venture to guess most of us are undermining the importance of sleep in that process.

Sleep is important for muscle building because it helps muscles recover from exercise-induced stress, impacts testosterone and growth hormone production, and can affect your performance in the gym.

It's crazy that a simple activity such as sleep can substantially affect weightlifters and bodybuilders. Far too often, we place all our focus on our routine in the gym and completely forget about our sleep routine.

Sleep helps muscles recover from exercise-induced stress

First off, getting an adequate amount of sleep helps muscles recover from exercise-induced stress.

Muscle growth occurs through the repairing of broken-down muscle fibers. Lifting weights breaks down muscle fibers; this is what we refer to as exercise-induced stress. The reparation of these fibers, thicker and stronger than before, is what leads to gains in the gym.

A study published in 2019 examined the effect of sleep on muscle injury, and the results were conclusive.

Sleep deprivation was found to reduce protein synthesis, subsequently leading to muscle breakdown without repairs.

On the flip side, adequate amounts of sleep were found to be key in repairing muscle damage.

Sleep increases testosterone and growth hormone production

Testosterone and growth hormone are essential for building muscle. The trick to maximizing the production of these two building blocks? You guessed it. Sleep.

A 2015 study on sleep restriction and testosterone levels found that young men who were subjected to sleep restriction produced just over 10% less testosterone than well-rested subjects.

Testosterone is crucial to muscle growth because it increases muscle mass through increased protein synthesis; without the ability to synthesize and rebuild muscle fibers, strength gains will be non-existent.

Other growth hormones function similarly. Without these hormones, protein synthesis is unable to occur, further hindering muscle growth.

Affects performance in the gym

Last but certainly not least, we need to examine the role of sleep in our performance in the gym.

Sleep provides energy to the body; we feel sluggish and beat up without sleep.

Now imagine how that translates to the gym. No amount of caffeinated pre-workout can compensate for sleep deprivation.

In this way, sleep allows you to hit two birds with one stone. Sleep helps break down muscle fibers, as well as build them back up stronger than before.

How much sleep is optimal for building muscle?

While the quantity of sleep we need varies from person to person, certain guidelines determine the range of sleep we need to aim for.

How much sleep do we need to build muscle?

Bodybuilders and weightlifters need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to build muscle efficiently. Any less than that and protein synthesis will not occur to its fullest extent.

The CDC recommends that adults get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.

The CDC's chart for sleep recommendations.

This quantity of sleep is enough to get a sufficient amount of non-REM sleep. While we won't dive into the nitty-gritty details, there are two types of sleep: REM and non-REM.

Non-REM sleep is the phase of sleep when protein synthesis is at its peak, so the more, the better.

Aside from just building muscle, getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night will do wonders for your general health like reducing the risk of heart attack and increasing life expectancy.

However, the quality of your sleep is just as important as the quantity of your sleep.

Proper sleep hygiene tips for deep sleep

I know, I know. I've been harping on just how much sleep you really need every night, and now I'm telling you it has to be a specific type of sleep too. When does it ever end?

Sleep hygiene makes a world of difference in the way you feel and your body's ability to recover from lifting weights.

Because lifters need to attain non-REM sleep to adequately repair muscle, it's very important to achieve deep sleep. With our following tips, rest assured you'll be out like a log at night!

  • Wake up consistently at the same time
  • Prioritize getting to bed on time
  • Avoid napping too late in the day
  • Avoid blue light before bed
  • Wind down before bed with a book, stretching, etc.
  • Don't drink caffeine late in the day
  • Try and avoid large meals before going to sleep

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