Is Sufficient Sleep Missing From Your Fitness Regimen?

Updated on July 31, 2017

How does sleep affect fitness?

During sleep, the body repairs the muscle fibers that have been broken down during exercise and weight training. In order to experience muscle growth and an increase in strength and performance, athletes must get consistently sufficient sleep. In addition, athletes will experience better training sessions when well rested. While every individual requires a different amount of sleep, for most people sufficient sleep is somewhere between 8-10 hours of quality sleep each night.

It's not being lazy, it's called muscle recovery!

Sometimes it feels like fitness is all go, go, go. Always keep your body moving so that you always burn calories, right? This is far too common of a misconception in the fitness community. Once you get into serious weightlifting and exercise, it’s actually crucial to give your muscles the rest they require. So next time you feel like lounging around watching TV after a hard day’s work, or going to bed at 9 pm, go for it! Your body will thank you. Important muscle restoration processes occur during sleep; with enough rest, your muscles will repair themselves and grow, you will gain strength and will continuously have energy to crush your workouts!

What Really Happens When We Sleep?

Getting enough quality sleep will aid tremendously in muscle growth. During a lifting session, the muscle fibers are broken down, creating microscopic tears that must be repaired. In order for the muscle to grow, the fibers need to be restored, which the body does during deep sleep. Human growth hormone (somatotropin) is released by the pituitary gland during sleep, which is pertinent in stimulating muscle development. (One of the reasons children require more sleep than adults is because they are still growing.)

Proper sleep is also key in reducing cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is essentially one of your worst enemies when trying to look aesthetic. It is a hormone often released by stressed in the body, and has been known to lead to weight gain as well as the hindrance of muscle growth.

Sleep= gains!

How much sleep do I really need?

Unfortunately, there is no certain answer. Every individual requires different amounts of sleep, especially depending on their levels of physical activity. There is a direct correlation between the amount and intensity of physical activity and how many hours of quality sleep one needs. Most of the body’s muscle reparation occurs during sleep, therefore the more one breaks down their muscles, the more sleep they require. Without sufficient sleep, athletes will experience a noticeable decrease in physical performance and strength. For most athletes, 8-10 hours of quality sleep is sufficient.

There are several stages in the sleep cycle the body experiences each night. Generally, the first stage is the "transitional" phase between being awake and asleep, and is not intense enough to ensue any real muscle recovery. Stage two is deeper non- REM sleep, stages three and four are non-REM stages but are the deepest stages, and stage four is REM sleep. This is the most active stage of sleep. (See table.)

"For most athletes, 8-10 hours of quality sleep is sufficient."

A depiction of a healthy and restorative sleep cycle.
A depiction of a healthy and restorative sleep cycle. | Source

How you can induce a quality, deep sleep

There are steps that can be taken to ensure deep, restorative sleep each night. Before bed, avoid stimulating activities that keep you awake. For example, avoid the stimulating light of a cell phone for about an hour before bed. Listen to calm, soothing music rather than music that will get you excited. Physical activity such as light stretching may be helpful to relax your muscles before sleep, but, if possible, avoid heavy workouts that will energize the body before bed. Try to avoid sleeping pills, as they will take their toll on your sleep cycle in the long run. However, certain herbal remedies such as melatonin have been shown to be effective.

Try to ensure an optimal environment for quality sleep. An optimal environment may include a relatively cool temperature, a quiet space, and a space that is as dark as possible.

How many hours of sleep do you typically get each night?

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How sleep can increase your results

Obviously, for many people getting at least eight hours of sleep each night is just unrealistic. From work to family and other responsibilities, sleep can become a luxury for some. If this is the case, just do your best to create an optimal environment for quality sleep and try to create time for sufficient rest.

No matter the situation, make it a point to try to sleep well. Note the changes in muscle growth, strength, and energy levels. As an athlete, quality sleep is a huge factor in the progress of your training. If you feel you have hit a plateau in training, sleep could be the fix! As the quality of your sleep increases, you will likely notice much greater results.


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