Unlike most other interests and hobbies, building muscle is one of few commitments that leaves any aspect of your life untouched and can be an incredible catalyst for spawning a complete lifestyle change. Everything from your training routine, your social commitments, the food you eat (and don’t eat) and even you sleep schedule is influenced by your commitment to build muscle.
Training provides the stimulus for muscle growth but the environment in which the muscle can grow afterwards must be fostered by the right nutrition and just as importantly, enough rest is required to allow your body to recover and repair the microtears in your muscle fibres.
Most people can train hard enough, fewer people train hard enough and get their nutrition right. Even fewer train hard enough, get their nutrition right and sleep enough to allow their muscles to grow optimally. If you can be in the latter group, you’ll find yourself amongst the minority.
The Impact of Poor Sleep on Muscle Growth
Aside from putting yourself in a position where you feel energetic enough to push yourself hard and complete those last few reps, the scientific connection behind sleep and muscle growth is well established.
In 2011, a Brazilian study (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21550729/) concluded that the role of sleep in muscle growth went further than simply being important for protein synthesis (i.e. the process whereby muscle uses protein to grow) but also found a lack of sleep could foster the environment in which muscle tissue could more easily break down. This is particularly important to consider during a rest period when an unavoidable week or two arise where training isn’t possible. It’s generally accepted that muscle loss doesn’t begin until several weeks of training discontinuing but this could begin sooner for those with a chronic sleep deficit.
Our fast-paced, “normal” life is a common barrier to training and also a reason for accruing sleep deprivation. Unexpected work commitments or dedication to family time can make our intended day longer and at one time or another in our lives, we’ve all sat down at the end of a hard day only to wonder how it’s already 11:30pm. This effect that’s placed upon us by societal demands is acknowledged in a 2018 study (https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.aar8590) that specifically highlighted how a lack of sleep can be “...associated with an increased risk of numerous metabolic pathologies, including obesity, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes.” The same study looks at how this negatively affects skeletal muscle tissues and establishes an expected link between sleep deprivation and muscle loss.
What Can We Do To Improve Sleep?
Improving sleep can be done almost overnight (pun intended). There are simple steps you can to take to improve both the quality and the amount of sleep you have and create good habits that will support a muscle growth plan.
1. Schedule your sleep
Aiming to get to bed at the same time every day will help regulate your circadian rhythm and after a short while, your body will begin to know when it’s soon time for bed and start to wind down for this time. After long, you’ll find a natural sleepiness around your normal bedtime will help you into a deep sleep.
2. Avoid “blue light” before bedtime
Blue light is typically that which is emitted from electronic devices such as our phones and TVs. In the hour before bed, aim to spend time away from electronic devices or if that’s not possible, iPhone and Android apps are available that effectively blocks blue light.
Studies that back up this hypothesis (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20937863/) have shown that exposure to blue light before bedtime ‘trick’ your circadian rhythm into believing it’s daytime and encourages you body to maintain an ‘awake’ state that disrupts your ability to sleep.
3. Avoid caffeine late in the day
This is a well-known piece of advice but doesn’t always go far enough in demonstrating how long caffeine can stay in your body and affect your ability to sleep. Caffeine can remain in your blood for up to eight hours which means a 3pm latte can be the reason why you’re not ready for bed until 11pm. If you’re going to drink caffeinated drinks, set yourself a reasonable cut off taking into account the eight hour presence of caffiene, and you should be fine.
Perfect Isn’t Essential. But Get Close to It.
Training, sleep and nutrition all need to be considered to optimise muscle growth. That’s not to say you won’t grow muscle if these things aren’t all in order, because it will still work if the environment isn’t perfect.
What we’re all trying to do through educating ourselves is to optimise the process and get the most out of every day and every workout.