How Much Sleep Do I Need to Build Muscle?
Plus 4 Reasons Sleep is Vitally Important for Weight Lifters
Ever since the birth of my son, sleep has taken on a whole new meaning. Before having a baby in our home, I took sleep for granted. I’ve always been a good sleeper, for which I’m grateful, because I know some people who have trouble sleeping and it’s not a pleasant problem to have.
However, for the first 6 months of my son’s life, 6 to 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep was a luxury. Fortunately, my son is sleeping better, which means my wife and I are as well.
Living for months sleep deprived reduced my energy and mental clarity. I didn’t lift for several months because our son was colicky, which contributed to some nights having difficulty going to sleep despite being exhausted. However, I’m back in the gym with a vengeance … so it’s great I’m also getting regular sleep again.
Lack of gains may not be your workout or diet … you may just need to sleep more
If you’re not making the gains you should, it may well not be the workout regimen you’re doing and it may not be your diet. Instead it may be lack of rest and sleep. With approximately 30 percent of the American workforce sleep deprived, there’s a good chance you aren’t getting sufficient sleep.
So much attention in bodybuilding and weightlifting is directed toward type of workout (exercises, scheduling, sets, reps, etc.) and diet. Yet, sleep is vitally important for weightlifters for 4 reasons. In fact, sleep and rest is the third-leg of athletic performance, including building muscle and gaining strength.
So, how much sleep do you need to build muscle?
The answer is the same for non-bodybuilders as bodybuilders. It boils down to your individual sleep requirements and age (my infant son sleeps more than me). The suggested range for adults is 7 to 9 hours per night. Some people can get away with less, but that’s not many people. 5 hours per night is considered sleep deprived. Some people claim they need only 4 or 5 hours of sleep per night, but that’s unlikely. 5 hours or less every night often results in chronic fatigue.
4 Reasons Sleep is Vitally Important for Weight Lifters and Bodybuilders
The 4 reasons sleep is vitally important for weight lifters and bodybuilders are:
- Muscle repair and growth;
- Impairment of ability;
- Impairment of the ability to pay attention; and
- Fat gain as a result of increased appetite.
1. Muscle Repair and Growth
Sleep deprivation suppresses growth hormones , which reduces the body’s ability to repair and grow muscle. In fact, your muscle grows in rest, including sleep. In fact, during 24 hours post-workout, protein synthesis (building muscle) occurs the most in the muscles that “performed the highest load” during the previous 24 hours.
During sleep, testosterone and growth hormone increase. This means sleep is an optimal muscle-building time of the day. Therefore, not only do you want to get sufficient sleep, but you want to optimally prepare for sleep to take advantage of the anabolic activity sleep provides. You best prepare by loading up on protein and amino acids before going to sleep; avoid carbs before bed as they can reduce the growth hormone spike.
2. Impairment of Ability
Sleep deprivation causes fatigue, which impairs mental and motor ability. Moreover, inadequate rest can result in cramping, hernias, and muscle facia tears. Therefore, insufficient sleep can not only impact lifting performance, but can actually cause injury. As any athlete knows, injuries ruin progress and gains like nothing else … because you’re sidelined for weeks or months.
3. Impairment of the Ability to Pay Attention
Sleep deprivation can also decrease our “ability to pay attention, react to signals or remember new information.” For us fitness folks, including serial weight lifters, I consider the impairment of being able to pay attention an important consequence of sleep deprivation.
Focus and alertness helps push/pull more weight. It helps us perform better. When scatterbrained or in the foggy-brain state, I do not lift nearly as well. Given that I work out each muscle once every 5 to 7 days, I want to make every workout session count.
4. Fat Gain
Sure, bodybuilders want and need to add mass, and sometimes extra fat is added during the process, but ultimately bodybuilders want to cut down for that ripped muscle appearance.
Chronic sleep deprivation (5 hours of sleep a night or less) can disrupt hormones that regulate glucose metabolism and appetite. Specifically, the hormonal changes “increase feelings of hunger.” Now, as a bodybuilder, you might be thinking an increased appetite is a good thing to increase caloric intake, but that’s not a very good way to go about. The other reasons (lower energy and reduced muscle repair/growth) outweigh any benefit you might expect from having an increased appetite.
Added fat and obesity can then contribute to apnea, which can reduce sleep quality.
However, sleep deprivation can also impact your brain, which can reduce energy and mental clarity. Reduced energy and mental clarity will result in lower quality workouts, which reduces muscle growth and gains in general.
Working Out and Sleep Go Hand-in-Hand
While insufficient sleep can reduce workout quality and adversely affect workout progress/gains, consistently working can improve sleep quality  … including the ability to fall asleep quickly. I’ve experienced this in my own life during times of regular working out versus periods where I didn’t work out regularly (life happens). In fact, my sleep quality and ability to go to sleep quickly dramatically improves when I work out for 30 to 90 minutes a day 5 days a week.
Consequently, my improved sleep results in better workouts … which, you guessed it … improves my sleep, which improves my workouts, which improves my gains and so on and so on.
So, if you’re focused solely on which workout you’re doing and your nutrition and aren’t making gains, consider the amount you sleep. Any lack of sleep may be the reason or a contributing reason to your lack of gains and workout progress.
For more information checkout Natural Size Muscle Building.
 Haut A. Many U.S. Workers Sleep Deprived. U.S. News (Health).
 How Much Sleep Do We Really Need? National Sleep Foundation.
 Does the lack of sleep make you fat? Bristol University Press Release, December 7, 2004.
 Vgontzas, A. et al. Sleep deprivation effects on the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and growth axes: potential clinical implications. Clin. Endocrinol. 51(2): 213-9.
 Di Pasquale M.D., M. Grow While You Sleep.
 Drowsy Driving Fact Sheet. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. December 2, 2009.
 Sleep Deprivation. Wikipedia.