The Importance of Great Sleep for Gains (and How to Get It)
It’s often been said that there’s no such this as overtraining – only undereating and under-sleeping. For the most part, I agree! A lot of guys understand the first part, too – a little too well, if their year-long “bulks” are any indication. But far too few lifers grasp the importance of quality sleep.
In fact, I’d have to say that getting plenty of sleep is almost as important as your diet. Sure, some people get by with just a few hours per night, and in some cases they have no other choice. But unless you’re a medical student, a single parent with two jobs or someone else who really only has a few spare hours to spend on sleep, you’d better be getting seven to eight hours per night. If you don’t, you’re not just sacrificing gains – you’re sacrificing quality of life! Here are a few reasons why sleep is so important to the training process, as well as a few tips on how you can catch a few more hours per night.
This should be a no-brainer, but so many lifters – especially younger gym rats – still don’t grasp it. Poor sleep will kill your concentration, focus and overall feeling of alertness – all crucial elements of a good training session. And, while a chronic lack of sleep is the main culprit behind a host of weight room woes, even one restless night can kill your workout the following day. Some research has even shown that staying awake for 24 hours impairs performance just as much as being legally drunk!
One of the most important things that happens during deep sleep is growth hormone release. This actually has a lot to do with why babies sleep so much, and at the rate they grow, they’re the most anabolic people of all! For further evidence of growth hormone’s healing powers, just look at all the elite athletes getting caught with it. From normal training trauma to serious injuries, it’s one of the most powerful recovery agents in your body.
Fortunately, you don’t have to inject anything or do anything illegal to leverage the powers of GH. You just have to get your rest! If you’re currently logging four or five hours per night, and you start consistently getting seven to eight, you’ll be amazed at how much harder and longer you can train while still being able to recover.
Nervous System Recovery
Even if your main goal is muscle growth, strength should be one of your top priorities for improving your physique. If you don’t sleep well, however, there’s no way you’ll be able to keep adding weight to the bar. Your nervous system takes even longer to recover than your muscles, and most of that recovery occurs when you rest. In fact, there are plenty of big, huge, successful powerlifters who don’t do anything special with their diets – but they sure do sleep a lot!
Insulin sensitivity is basically your body’s ability to utilize carbs and regulate blood sugar, and it is one of your top hormonal concerns for building muscle and burning fat. It’s also largely dependent on proper sleep! Staying in tune with your body’s natural circadian rhythms is crucial for staying sensitive to insulin, and that means you not only need to get enough sleep – you need to go to bed at a reasonable hour. There is actually a big difference in results from sleeping from 10pm to 6am and 2am to 10am. Just look at people who’ve worked third shift for the past few years. Most of them are overweight or obese, and even the ones who aren’t that heavy carry plenty of extra flab around their midsections – the top spot for insulin-related fat-storage.
Aside from the issue of insulin sensitivity, sleep is also a prime time for burning fat. The growth hormone release that helps you recover and build muscle also releases fatty acids from your fat cells into your blood stream, allowing them to be efficiently burned off for energy. A restless night here and there probably won’t derail a diet, but if your sleep quality drastically diminishes, it should come as no surprise when your fat loss stalls.
Shut Off Your Screens
Want an easy tip for instantly better sleep? Stop checking your phone in bed! I know it’s tempting, especially if you’re still alert when you get under the covers, but flashing a light in your face is a horrible way to start a good night’s sleep. That bright light tells your brain that it’s NOT time to produce melatonin, the sleep-inducing chemical that’s normally secreted when it gets dark outside. If you want to reliably get to sleep and stay asleep at the same time every night, put away your phone, and establish a pre-bed ritual that features dim lighting and relaxation.
Ditch the Pre-Workout
This one won’t win any popularity contests, but another great sleep strategy is to stop taking pre-workouts! If you’re training in the late afternoon or evening, that big jolt of energy could be keeping you up well past your bedtime. If you still need a boost before you train, opt for a single cup of coffee or shot of espresso, which will provide a much saner dose of caffeine without all the extra stims found in the most popular pre-workouts.
Eat Before Bed
The myth that eating before bed makes you fat has been laid to rest. Still, a lot of guys just don’t have much of their daily caloric intake left to “spend” during the last hour or two of the day. If you’re already eating a caloric surplus that’s not that big a deal, but if you’re dieting, going to bed hungry is a surefire way to make sure you wake up in the middle of the night. You’re going to have to be hungry at some point during a fat loss phase. You may as well eat a little less during the morning or mid-afternoon, and save one of your biggest meals for right before bed.
Set a Bed Time
Last but certainly not least, you need to make sleep a priority! Almost everyone I’ve talked to who isn’t getting enough sleep says they “don’t have time.” Nonsense! We all have the same 24 hours in a day, and it’s up to you what you do with it. Don’t buy into all of those “no days off” and “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” motivational memes, either. Research and experience have shown time and again that your work quality and quality of life inevitably suffer when your sleep suffers. You can tell yourself you’re going to cut back on sleep to get more work done, but it’s safe bet you’ll end up getting even less done during your waking hours. Get your priorities in order, cut out the fluff and start getting to bed on time.