I love the pump.
That feeling in the gym, after busting your a** on a set, when your muscles fill with blood.
It’s that feeling of pushing myself everyday that fuels my gym addiction. And yet all too often, I get too caught up in the workouts and forget an equally important part of bodybuilding: recovery.
Muscle recovery is as important to bodybuilding as is your actual workout routine in the gym. In order for muscles to grow after a workout, the conditions must be right.
The best time for your muscles to recuperate is while you are sleeping, so it is important to be aware of your sleeping habits and maximize the potential benefits that quality sleep is able to give you.
This article will explain how sleep works and how you can maximize the anabolic potential of your sleep for increased muscle growth.
The Basics of Sleep
There are five stages of sleep. Understanding these stages will allow you to become aware of how sleep disturbances and disorders can affect your overall health.
The first stage of sleep is frequently observed by seeing someone begin to nod off while they are watching television late at night or reading a book. This stage of sleep is marked by the slowing down of brain activity and the start of muscle relaxation.
It is very easy to be woken up from this stage, which is why you can likely recall a time where you have started to drift off to sleep and then jolted back into an awakened state.
During stage two of sleep, there is a further slowing down of brain and muscle activity. This stage typically begins 15-30 minutes after you have been in bed. During this stage, you are easily woken up and can quickly become alert.
For example, if the phone rings when you are in the second stage of sleep, it will likely wake you up and you will be able to answer the phone and carry on a normal conversation.
Stages 3 and 4
Together, these stages are called slow wave sleep. During this time, your brain and muscle activity both significantly decrease. You will likely enter this stage of sleep about 45 minutes after the beginning stage. If you are woken up during this stage, you are groggy and likely find it difficult to carry on a normal conversation.
Rapid Eye Movement
Dreaming occurs during the REM stage of sleep. During this time, the brain is very active, however, the muscles of the body are paralyzed. During this time, your heart rate increases, your blood pressure rises, and your breathing becomes more rapid.
REM sleep is likely to begin after you have been asleep for about 90 minutes. The first REM cycle lasts about 10 minutes, with each cycle increasing in length to as long as one hour towards the last phase of your night.
Your body shifts in and out of the various sleep stages throughout the night. Deep, REM sleep is scattered throughout the night and incorporated into the various sleep stages.
The Importance of Sleep
Sleep plays a critical role in your health throughout your life.
How you feel while you’re awake is largely dependent on your quality of sleep. While you are sleeping, your body is hard at work repairing itself and supporting growth and development.
Sleep is also the time when your body recovers from exercise. Your muscles and organs repair themselves and you grow new muscle tissue. Sleep is anabolic, meaning that the chemical reactions that combine molecules and build muscle occur during this time.
Your body also replenishes key anabolic hormones and critical neurotransmitters while you are sleeping. These are all needed for effective muscle recovery when bodybuilding.
Consequences of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation occurs when you do not get an adequate amount of total sleep. This can result in excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, weight fluctuations, and clumsiness. It is also an easy way to cause muscle breakdown.
When you are trying to build muscle, not getting enough sleep is destructive because you are depriving your body of the rest that it needs to be able to recover, repair, and grow.
Sleep deprivation also leads to inflammation, which introduces a large variety of possible health issues, including heart disease and stroke.
Some other common side effects of sleep deprivation include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mood changes
- Weakened immune system
- High blood pressure
- Increased risk for diabetes
- Weight gain
When it comes to bodybuilding, sleep deprivation makes weight lifting harder on your body and can even increase your risk for overtraining, which can lead to injury and mental burnout.
How to Maximize Anabolic Sleep
To help maximize the quality of your sleep, you first need to perfect your sleep habits.
Maintaining a regular sleep routine is a great way to get your body used to falling asleep and waking up at the same time each day. Once your body is in this rhythm, you will have fewer problems falling asleep and eventually, you will not need an alarm clock to wake up.
Also, make sure that your bedroom is conducive to sleep….
- Turn off all electronics in your room
- Make sure the room is slightly cool
- Get rid of anything that could make noise during the night
Research shows that the release of melatonin facilitates sleep and exposure to light decreases the melatonin secretion in humans. This means that if the light levels in your sleep environment are too high, your melatonin levels will be suppressed, which can make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
And in terms of your diet…
- Don’t eat a heavy meal before going to sleep
- Stop drinking fluids 2-3 hours before bed (you don’t want to wake up multiple times to pee)
- Avoid caffeine after noon — caffeine takes 6 hours to eliminate just half of what was taken
Also, while you may love to get physical activity, start settling that down about two hours before going to bed. This will also help calm your mind and body and prepare it for a long night’s sleep.
Supplements to Maximize Anabolic Sleep
In addition to manipulating your sleep environment, you want to make sure to take effective dietary supplements. Proper supplementation can play a huge role in helping you fall asleep and maximizing the anabolic potential of your sleep.
ZMA (or Multivitamin)
ZMA is a blend of zinc and magnesium, and the vitamin B-6. These three compounds are critical in biological processes, and studies have shown that a large population of Americans are deficient in zinc, and an even larger number of people are deficient in magnesium.
Zinc is especially important in bodybuilding due to its role in testosterone production. Low levels of zinc and magnesium are both linked to a lower rate of muscle growth.
Your body produces melatonin on its own and can also get this hormone from a proper diet of fruits, vegetables, and grains. Melatonin supplements can also be used to improve sleep if they are needed.
They are also used to treat jet lag or insomnia, help control sleep for people who work at night, and reduce problems with sleeping and confusion following surgery.
GABA is a neurotransmitter that can decrease nerve activity. People suffering with insomnia often have lower levels of GABA.
Many sleeping pills work by improving GABA’s ability to bind to receptors in the brain. Supplemental GABA has little effect, however, as the molecule is unable to cross from the blood into the brain.
As such, I recommend a GABA analogue like Phenibut. Though it can have some unwanted side effects (if over-used), Phenibut is an effect form of GABA that passes through the blood brain barrier without issue and thus has a greater effect on lowering anxiety.
Recap: Keys for Bodybuilding Sleep
In conclusion, getting sufficient sleep is one of the keys ways to boost muscle growth. While you are sleeping, your body is going through the most important period of recovery for your muscles and supporting organs.
Sleep can potentially be the most anabolic period of your day. However, it is important to remember that sleep can also be highly catabolic.
Maximizing your anabolic potential of sleep can be achieved by making your sleep environment conducive to high-quality sleep and using supplements that will help you fall asleep quicker, sleep through the night, and maximize anabolic conditions during this vital time of repair.
This was a guest article by Dan Fries of Corpina Nootropics. He is a published nutrition and supplement researcher who has worked with big names like Dana Farber and The Michigan Center.