We are all, in theory, familiar with the healthy lifestyle trifecta: a healthy and balanced diet, working out and staying active, and getting enough sleep.
However, there are times when achieving all three is more of a challenge: you sacrifice a gym session in order to meet a deadline at work, you lose a few hours of sleep to stay up and watch The Witcher, you grab a sugary snack on the go on those mornings when you are late for work.
And while none of these things will do all that much harm on their own – if you keep slipping up, you will fail to see the results you are looking for.
As an ectomorph who is trying to gain muscle mass: you already know that you need to eat more calories just to gain what you are looking for. However, eating the right kind of food and the proper amount of calories will not help you if you spend your days walking around on 5 hours of sleep, convinced that lifting and eating more is all it takes to gain.
Let’s explore the relationship between sleep and muscle gains, and how you can improve yours to see the desired results:
How are muscles built:
The process of muscle growth is rather straightforward, and consists of the following stages:
- Stimulus – working out, i.e. lifting weight
- Recovery – fueled by a good diet and plenty of sleep
- Adaptation – hypertrophy, or muscle growth
When you are in the gym lifting weights and “feeling the burn” what you’re feeling is actually micro-damage to individual muscle fibers. Similarly “the pump” is blood rushing to your muscles to both deliver oxygen for performance but also to help start the recovery process as the body essentially things it’s under mild-threat attack and it is this stress response mechanism that triggers the rebuild process.
While most people focus on stage one (described above), the most important one is actually stage two.
It has been proven that the quality of your sleep has a significant effect on the rate at which you gain or lose muscle, as many of the processes your body requires in order to reach hypertrophy happen while you are sleeping, and sometimes exclusively then.
Sleep prevents muscle breakdown
A 2010 study carried out by the American College of Physicians examined how sleep affects fat loss and muscle growth. Their subjects were split into two groups: where one slept 8.5 hours per night, while the other one slept 5.5 hours per night. Both groups were put on a regulated calorie deficit for two weeks as well.
And while subjects from both groups lost the same amount of weight, it is very interesting to note where this weight came from.
Those who slept 5.5 hours per night lost 55% less fat, but 60% more muscle mass, while those who slept 8.5 hours lost 55% more fat, and 60% less muscle.
While it is still unclear why this is the case, a 2018 study has found that just one night of no sleep causes increased protein breakdown and promotes the storage of fat. This might be the reason why the less sleep you get, the more muscles you will lose, and the less you will be able to gain.
Sleep regulates your testosterone levels
A 2015 study has found that sleeping 5 hours per night will decrease testosterone levels in men by as much as 10-15%. Peak testosterone levels always occur early in the day, which is why many men wake up with morning erections. This is also a great reason to move your weight lifting sessions to the AM if possible to maximize that hormonal energy.
As we know that testosterone is an anabolic hormone that plays a crucial role in both building muscle mass and losing fat stores, it’s clear why you wouldn’t want to intentionally decrease its production, if you can prevent it.
If you are serious about bodybuilding, or you are over the age of 35, it is worth getting your testosterone levels checked on a regular basis as they begin to naturally decrease with age after about 25 years old, with more rapid decreases occurring when men are in their 40’s and 50’s.
You can either have your doctor do a blood test, which is a great option if you have insurance as it is easier to get TRT (testosterone replacement therapy) via a doctor’s prescription. Hefty TRT doses will have very noticeable impacts on your gains.
If you DON’T have insurance, or just don’t want to go to the doctor there are mail-deliverable home-test kits that allow you to DIY test your hormone levels. There are a few big players in this home hormone testing space and it’s worth doing some research before diving in. Still, we say it’s worth it because the first step in addressing a problem is identifying a problem, i.e, low testosterone levels.
There are some natural supplements that can help “optimize” testosterone levels, but be aware, no over the counter pill is going to raise your testosterone levels to supra-physiological levels. What this means is that supplements MAY be able to increase your T levels to the best of there natural threshold, but not beyond.
Sleep affects your performance at the gym
A lack of sleep will not only have an adverse effect on your muscle breakdown and hormonal levels, it will also have a negative impact on the way you perform in the gym after a night of poor sleep.
When you are sleep deprived, your body will give up at the point where it would normally push through and keep going. This means you won’t be able to do as many reps, and lift as much as you normally could, which can significantly mess with your gains.
How much sleep do you really need?
While some people are perfectly capable of functioning with 6 hours of sleep (and you might even be one of them), sticking to the recommended 7 to 9 hours per night should be your ultimate goal. Every person is different, with different lifestyles, different training styles, different fitness goals and different sleep requirements. Try adjusting your sleep duration over a few weeks to find the optimal balance for your unique physiology.
If you are wondering if a nap during the daytime can lend a helping hand – the simple is answer is yes and no. While it will certainly increase your total sleep time and help your mind and body recuperate, nighttime sleep is ultimately the best recovery agent, as your sleep patterns are completely different during night and day.
Sleep quality and why it’s important
If you spend 8 hours in bed tossing and turning, you will still not experience all the benefits of sleep, which is why working on your sleep hygiene is very important.
- Stop looking at a screen at least 30 minutes before going to bed, as the light and activity will prevent your brain from reaching the point where it can fall asleep
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends
- Don’t drink caffeine at least 6 hours prior to going to bed
- Keep your room cool and let enough air in, as high temperature and a lack of air can have a negative effect on the quality of your sleep
- Avoid drinking alcohol before going to bed, as while it may help you fall asleep faster, it won’t provide a quality night’s rest
- Breathe through your nose while you sleep – if you are struggling to do so, try mouth taping, as it can actually improve your athletic performance
- Don’t fuel yourself with sugar, as it can cause unpleasant energy crashes that will affect your sleeping patterns
Best Nighttime Recovery Supplements
If you can think it, the bodybuilding industry can think of a supplement for it. Seriously…
Need to up your protein intake but you’re already maxing out your daily caloric intake? Hydrolized whey isolate.
Want to increase blood flow for a killer pump but working out late at night so you don’t want any caffeine? Caffeine-free pump enhancers.
Have trouble sleeping and want to make sure sure your muscles have the nutrients they need to continue to rebuild over-night? Welcome to the world of sleep supplements.
There is a pill or powder available for purchase for every conceivable challenge a bodybuilder will face. Many of the offer hollow promises, but many can also be real boosters to your progress, like creatine monohydrate, protein powder, and multivitamins/minerals.
There are a multitude of post-workout/pre-sleep supplements specifically formulated for bodybuilders and hardcore athletes. The blends usually contain some mineral supplementation like ZMA (zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6), some amino acid component for anabolic support, and usually some sleep aid like melatonin.
Below are some of the best-selling, most effective recovery-focused supplements for bodybuilders:
Personally, we usually just get the ZMA because sometimes a sleep aid isn’t required, and if we need one, we can add a regular generic over-the-counter sleep aid with the ZMA for a simple night-time stack. We also usually drink some casein protein or a casein/whey blend before bed to have a trickle-supply of amino acids overnight to support muscle recovery.
Skinny Yoked Summary
Falling into a regular (and above all quality) sleeping habit can be a challenge in the modern world. However, if your goal is to gain, you should shift your focus from the weight room to the bedroom, as that is where the gains actually happen.
Remember that muscle growth comes from the synergy of rest, a healthy diet fueled by protein and what you can actually lift, and that one without the others won’t provide what you are looking for.
What’s your night-time protocol? Do you find a particular supplement helps with sleep and recovery? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Last update on 2020-11-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API