The Sleep-Muscle Growth Connection: Why Getting Enough Sleep Is Essential for Gaining Mass

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How often do you hear people talk about the importance of sleep when it comes to muscle growth? Probably not as often as you hear people talk about the importance of protein, creatine, or other supplements.

However, sleeping is just as important for gaining mass.

Do you make sure that you get enough good-quality restful sleep?

Did you know how close muscle growth and sleep are related to each other?

Well – don´t worry if you didn´t spend much thought on your sleep and muscle relationship so far! Most athletes don´t – even professional athletes miss out on improving their sleeping patterns…

In this article, we will discuss the sleep-muscle growth connection and explain why getting enough zzz’s is essential for putting on size. We will also provide tips on how to get a good night’s sleep!

an alarm clock

What happens in our bodies during a good sleep?

Muscle recovery and repair

Getting enough sleep is essential for our bodies to get much-needed time for muscle repair processes and also muscle recovery.

Especially when you have put in that extra effort to finish your hard high intensity workout, your long-distance run, or your heavy and demanding swimming competition – your body needs time to work against muscle breakdown and it needs time to fix all the little micro-tears that happen when muscles are stressed.

Sleep and muscle recovery are two things that absolutely go together. You need a good amount of deep sleep for muscle recovery and repair processes!

muscle structure
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Muscle Protein Synthesis

As important as adequate sleep is for muscle recovery and muscle repair processes, as important it is also for muscle growth and recovery in the form of muscle hypertrophy (protein breakdown) and muscle protein synthesis.

Muscle protein synthesis is the one important process that results in muscle growth. MPS is triggered by resistance training and/or protein uptake and it also takes place during a good restful sleep.

The goal of most athletes is to build muscle. For many, it only has aesthetic reasons, but the sensible athlete has understood how muscle mass, strong body composition and a pain-free, healthy life go hand in hand.

So put in the hard work during your days and work out and then let the magic happen during your restorative sleep.

Once you go into sleep mode, the process of increasing muscle mass starts.

muscle fiber

Human Growth Hormone

Another thing that happens during your hours of sleep is increased growth hormone secretion. Not only are muscle-building amino acids released at an increased rate during deep sleep – but growth hormones are also set free.

Studies have found that the body is able to heal and rejuvenate itself during REM (rapid eye movement) deep sleep when eyes are moving quickly back and forth. This includes restoring muscle tissue, replenishing immune cells, and circulating human growth hormone.

Growth hormone stimulates tissue growth in children and in an adult’s body, it is responsible for maintaining tissues and organs.

A lack of deep sleep can lead to less growth hormone in your body which further leads to a loss of muscle mass and reduced exercise capacity.

Maybe this also explains why sleep-deprived people have that “aged” look on their faces… 😉

hormone cell
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The effects of sleep deprivation

Bad sleep quality and lack of sleep affect our physical performance in several ways and before we talk about the scientifically proven effects, we want to shed some light on the obvious.

Our mantra here at Motifitlife states that if you want to achieve maximum performance – physically or mentally – you have to give your best at each of the four cornerstones that make up our overall performance.

The four cornerstones are:

    • workout
    • nutrition
    • mindset
    • healthy lifestyle

If you fall short in just one of these areas, you will not perform to your maximum potential.

Sleep is definitely part of a healthy lifestyle. Lack of sleep will have several effects that will ultimately decrease your desired performance.

Fatigue

Without question, poor sleep or the lack of enough quality sleep will result in fatigue.

Have you ever had one of those days where you felt really tired but you still had to hit the gym? Just think back to how you felt – for me, such days feel like “today this is not going to fly” right from the start…

The workout is a pain from the beginning until the end and for sure you don´t give it your best. The result: a low-quality workout – wasted time and no gains for sure!

word "fatigue" in a dictonary

Bad mood

Just like fatigue, a bad mood is no good start to a workout. Not only will you get frustrated much quicker during a workout once you realize that you are not performing as usual, but there is also an even worse effect:

Your brain connects feelings to situations and saves them to your hard drive!

Lifting weights while being in a bad mood connects that activity to the bad-mood feeling. If you do it once you are ok – but don´t let this become a habit.

a guy in bad mood

No motivation

Lack of enough sleep kills your motivation which kills your efforts to build muscle.

Just like working out fatigued, working out with no motivation is bound to fail!

A low-motivated athlete will never give his best and push to the limits without proper motivation. But only leaving the comfort zone will let you make progress.

Demotivated, nobody pushes hard enough to leave their comfort zone.

a sign saying "motivation vs demotivation"

Each one of these points affects your performance during your workout.

But it is your workout session where you should push your limits, leave your comfort zone, and give your best.

In order to do so, you must be fully awake.

Your mind is extremely powerful – all the points above will weaken your mind which leads to working just for the sake of working out – if at all!

So always try to get more deep sleep to get the most out of your workouts!

an illustration of a clock saying "time to sleep!
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What science says

In fact, the questions “Does sleep affect muscle growth” or even “How does sleep – or the lack thereof – affect performance?” have so much importance that there is quite an extensive list of studies on that topic.

We will pick the most important ones that answer our question “Do I gain more muscle mass if I sleep right?” best.

One sleepless night has a massive effect

The one study that told us best just how much sleep deprivation affects muscle-building processes was this one: The effect of acute sleep deprivation on skeletal muscle protein synthesis and the hormonal environment

Thirteen candidates aged between 18-35 and with a usual similar sleeping pattern of about 7 hours of sleep (not bedtime) per night took part in this study.

They were exposed to 30-hour sleep deprivation after receiving a standardized meal.

The candidates were monitored and kept awake all the time.

After the sleep deprivation phase the participants were examined which showed these results after only one night without sleep:

    • muscle protein synthesis was lowered by 18%
    • all male participants showed lower levels of testosterone
    • there was a pro-catabolic increase in the stress hormone cortisol
Infographic about effects of sleep deprivation on skeletal muscle
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Lack of sleep reduces testosterone

All these three study results clearly show the negative effects of sleep deprivation on muscle growth and muscle repair processes in our bodies.

These results go hand in hand with the results of another study that took place in 2015: Effect of 1 Week of Sleep Restriction on Testosterone Levels in Young Healthy Men

This study came to the conclusion that a reduced sleep time of only 5 hours per night over a period of one week already reduced the levels of the anabolic growth hormone testosterone by up to 15%!

effect of sleep deprivation on testosterone

Lack of sleep also affects body composition

The lack of enough proper rest also influences our efforts to lose fat. This study that was conducted in 2018 shows exactly what happens when you do everything you can in order to gain lean muscle mass and lose fat, but miss out on enough deep sleep: Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity

This study accompanied two groups of people that adhered to the same nutrition plan for two weeks which aimed for a caloric deficit.

The difference was that one group was given a sleep period of 8.5 hours and the other group only got 5.5 hours of sleep every night.

The candidates in both groups lost weight, but the group that only got 5.5 hours of sleep per night lost 55% less fat and 60% more lean muscle mass than the other group that got 8.5 hours of sleep!

This shows just how much sleep helps to achieve your “lose weight but keep your muscles” goals!

The sleep duration directly controls fat loss and/or muscle loss.

effect of sleep deprivation on body composition
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What we have learned so far

Going to bed early and getting enough deep sleep has many positive effects on our efforts of building muscle and losing fat.

Not only can we avoid obvious negative results like fatigue, loss of motivation, or bad mood that kill our workout performance.

Good deep sleep also positively regulates growth hormones in our bodies, prevents the secretion of catabolic cortisol, and supports muscle protein synthesis.

So what else can we do to support the positive effects of a good sleep recovery?

Adjust your sleeping environment for overall sleep quality

Observe good sleep hygiene! Give your mind and body a chance to detach from the constant outside stress! This means that you should avoid electronic devices for a minimum of 30 minutes before bedtime.

During nighttime turn your cellphone at least to flight mode – better switch it off completely!

Additionally, you should have no electronic devices in your bedroom. A bedroom TV kills your sleeping efforts!

Keep your bedroom temperature cool and let some fresh air into your bedroom before going to bed.

Make sure you have a proper bed and the right pillow that will let you sleep comfortably and without constantly waking up.

computer keyboard with "sleep"-button

How long should I sleep?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends something between 7 to 9 hours of sleep for an adult.

Avoid consuming caffeine in any form in the hours before you go to bed as studies have shown that this can reduce your sleep time by up to one hour!

Also, don´t exercise too hard in the hours before bedtime as this will kick-start your metabolism and prevent you from finding the peace you need for some good sleep.

How about naps during the day?

Naps are good as they add up to your overall sleeping time, but they are no replacement for an uninterrupted sleep phase during nighttime!

Conclusion

Sleep is essential for your gains! As a guideline, plan for sleep phases of around 8 hours per night if you want to get the most out of your sleep.

You will be rested, you will perform better during your weight training, your body gets a chance to recover and build muscle, your growth hormones will stay balanced, you will avoid unnecessary catabolic processes, and you will lose more fat and keep your muscle mass.

We hope you found this article helpful and if you liked it, please like, share and comment 🙂

Maybe you are also interested in the powers of positive affirmations – the check out our article on this topic here.

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