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The Importance of Sleep for Muscle Growth

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The Importance of Sleep for Muscle Growth
Sleep Builds Strong Muscle Mass
By: Dr. Bill Misner Ph.D.

Sleep Is Important To Training Performance Gains

You and your training partner carefully measure the optimal protein intake for the "max" in muscle growth response. You both take the exact same anabolic state-of-the-art supplements and follow the same "perfect" workout dictated by your aggressive, but prominent personal trainer. Your partner's gains are what you'd hoped for...what went wrong? Deep sleep patterns may mean the difference between big anabolic gains and none at all! Both bodily repair and anabolic growth occur only during quality rest, and when deep sleep patterns become routine. How many of us have been able to resist that nodding, drowsy, insistent call to sleep?

If we give in, what are we going to miss? What could we be doing instead? Even the most mature, health-conscious adults may, at times, view sleep as an unwelcome intruder into their work, play, or leisure activities. Time spent sleeping accounts for 27 to 35% of a person's lifetime; assuming a person sleeps 6.5 to 9.0 hours per day, this slumber time accounts for 166,000 to 230,000 hours over an average 70-year life span!

How long can a person go without any sleep? Based on small animal studies in which the subjects have been exposed to extreme sleep deprivation, scientists have estimated that the average human may not live past 10 days without sleep. Not as clear, however, are the exact physiological mechanisms resulting from sleep deprivation that ultimately lead to death. It has been suggested by some that the hypothalamus, which regulates several of the body's metabolic activities, is not able to control body temperature after being deprived of sleep for many days.

While lack of sleep can have dire consequences, adequate sleep provides only positive, healthful benefits. In a typical day, a person's waking hours are consumed trying to meet the many mental and physical demands encountered at every turn, as well as replenishing vital nutrients as they are being used up during these daily activities. In the hours remaining--during sleep--the body takes time out to rebuild and recharge, preparing for the day ahead.

Recuperation During Sleep Is Related To A Sensitive Built-In Biological Clock

Electrical activity measured in the brain during sleep indicates that healthful physiological changes occur in 90-minute periods throughout the night, which means that the active biological clock in a person is set to operate in a circadian rhythm of 90-minute cycles that repeats every 25 to 28 hours. This clock is set and reset according to the amount of natural daylight available each day, thus evening sleep begins later in summer than in winter.1

Losing sleep during any 24- or 48-hour period interferes with the essential and healthful cycle of physiological changes that occur during sleep and is detrimental to both physical and mental recovery. Recovery in subjects deprived of sleep for 24 hours has been measured at 72%, while recovery after a 48-hour period without sleep further deteriorated to a level of only 42%.2

Other clock-like rhythms occur between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. and from 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., when our body temperature dips a degree or two and drowsiness results. We have all experienced this mid- or late-afternoon slump. In contrast, when body temperature peaks between 6:00 and 9:00p.m., we may become aware of a heightened sense of alertness. Then, as we tend to wind down from our daily activities sometime after 9:00 p.m., our body temperature falls again, and we are lulled into a state of drowsiness during which the brain converts low-voltage "beta" waves into higher voltage "alpha" waves. As these alpha waves are, in turn, converted to slower "theta" waves during what are known as sleep stages 1 and 2, the skeletal muscles relax, causing the "hypnic jerk" or "nodding" experience. When nodding off is not resisted or interrupted, the theta waves soon turn into even slower "delta" waves of the third and fourth stages of deeper sleep. During these stages, rapid-eye-movement {REM} sleep, dreams, and actual muscle paralysis take place. If, for some reason, muscle paralysis does not occur, the vividness of the dream state will physically draw the dreamer into an active state of sleepwalking or, worse yet, intense physical activity that will further break down exhausted muscle tissues already in need of repair.

Animal studies3 have shown that inhibiting the brain's ability to paralyze muscle during sleep results in the animals jumping around, growling, howling, and generally exhausting themselves while actively dreaming. During undisturbed sleep or slow-wave sleep, the plasma growth hormone (HGH) in humans is found to be at its highest levels.4

If the sleep stage process is interrupted, complete repair of soft tissues is impossible due to the resulting decrease or absence of HGH.

Quiet Please--Muscles are rebuilding!

Noise pollution has been shown to have a dramatic effect on a person's optimal sleep. Aircraft noise endured by those living in homes near airports can reach a level of 55 to 75 decibels inside the homes. Significant noise such as this has been observed to raise the adrenaline and noradrenaline levels of all those sampled during sleep, an effect which is detrimental to achieving normal, healthy, recuperative sleep.5

Exposure to high levels of noise during the day can also interfere with getting a sound night's sleep. Daytime noise pollution of 80 decibels or more tends to elevate both heart and respiration rates, which may further disrupt full-stage, recuperative sleep.6

Another enemy of a good night's sleep was found in a study in which the subjects received sleep in fragments. As discussed earlier, uninterrupted deep-sleep periods of at least 90 minutes are necessary for complete muscle recovery. When subjects were periodically aroused from sleep so as to prevent them from completing a full 90-minute period of sleep, muscle recovery was significantly hindered.7

When sleep is altered---reduced or extended---performance and mood are both affected. Two prominent researchers, Taub and Berger,8 observed altered sleep time by delaying, extending, or advancing each phase of slumber by a 3-hour time span. Their subjects suffered measurable declines in both performance and mood, in spite of getting enough total sleep. Achieving that elusive perfect night's sleep, then, would seem to depend upon enjoying a low-key day in a stress-free environment followed by seeking sleep at a routine time in a quiet, totally dark room. Another component of ensuring a good night's sleep is to maintain a balanced ratio of macro- and micronutrients.

Balancing Macronutrient Intake With A Precise Ratio of Micronutrients

What we eat and drink has a remarkable influence upon our sleep. Relatively small amounts of alcohol---as little as 0.8 grams per kilogram body weight---will suppress plasma growth hormone values as much as 75% when consumed just prior to sleep.9

Improper mineral absorption may also be a problem that contributes to poor sleep. Dr. James Balch10 suggests that when micronutrient ratios of calcium to magnesium are imbalanced or depleted, insomnia may occur. Most mineral supplements do not contain chelated minerals, but only 10% of non-chelated mineral supplements are absorbed in the small intestines, compared to 60 to 68% absorption of chelated minerals. A symptom typical of a calcium/magnesium deficiency is "blunt" arousal after only a few hours of sleep, or the inability to fall back to sleep when awakened.

A vitamin deficiency may also cause loss of sleep. Dietary deficiencies of vitamin B-complex micronutrients---specifically, B-5 and B-6---have been shown to disrupt sound sleep patterns.

Other foes of sound sleep are prescription medications, caffeine, obesity, thyroid gland disorders, or poor food choices.
Certain foods may not only reverse the replenishing effects of a good night's sleep, but they may create an undesired loss of muscle mass gains. Any food high in the amino acid, tyrosine, or its derivative, tyramine, will trigger the release of norepinephrine by the adrenal glands, which induces an alert waking state. Tyrosine- and tyramine-rich foods to be avoided at the evening meal include cheeses, beer, wine, broad bean pods, chicken liver, sauerkraut, chocolate, bacon, ham, sausage, eggplant, potatoes, spinach and tomatoes.

While certain foods should be avoided for the sake of a good night's sleep, all-out fasting can also interfere with sleep. Low glycogen stores in muscles resulting from excessive or prolonged fasting and high-protein/low-fat/low-carbohydrate diets may have a negative effect on the optimal sleep pattern.

Nutritive, sleep-inducing foods eaten at the evening meal will assist in achieving sound sleep patterns. These foods contain high amounts of another amino acid, tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, which in turn is a precursor to melatonin, the active neurotransmitter that makes us sleep. Foods found to be high in tryptophan include bananas, figs, dates, yogurt, oatmeal, turkey, tuna, and grapefruit. Complex carbohydrates, too, tend to enhance pre-slumber drowsiness if eaten in several small meals throughout the day.

Toward Beneficial Sleep

Some ergogenic experts, such as Dr. Michael Colgan11 argue for the healthful advantage of taking naps during the day between heavy lifting, "two-a-day" workouts. Others, such as Paul Moses3 warn against any interruption of normal sleep cycles enjoyed during the night in the absence of sunlight and noise. All sport researchers agree, however, that the more muscular or mental energy spent during the day, the greater the need for quality, continuous, multiple-stage sleep.

To ensure a healthful night's sleep, try these "Guidelines":

1. Plan on a daily transition from stimulating activities to less active, relaxing pursuits up to 3 hours prior to sleep---such as reading, listening to music, soaking in a warm bath, or taking a walk.
2. Two hours or less prior to bedtime, eat only foods that are rich in complex carbohydrates and tryptophan and contain a 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium in chelated form, augmented with high optimal intake of vitamin B complex (especially B-5 and B-6).
3. Avoid consumption of caffeine, alcohol, or foods rich in tyrosine or tyramine at least 6 hours before going to bed.
4. Avoid stimulating arousal from exercise, stress, or medications at least 6 hours prior to sleep.
5. See if you can synchronize your sleep pattern with available sunlight by developing the habit of going to bed when the sun sets and waking near the time when it rises. While this is not always possible, you can try to reinforce your basic sleep cycles (circadian rhythms) by providing a dark, quiet environment for sleep.
6. If you nap between two-a-day workouts, attempt to sleep for at least 90 minutes to complete a deep-sleep cycle for optimal recuperation and muscle mass growth during sleep.

There is no more a need for you to be the spectator, watching your partners-in-training grow and gain, while your progress plateaus in stagnation. As the above "Guidelines" for quality sleep are employed along with aggressive-progressive training, sound nutrition, and all the right supplements, anabolic gains may increase in direct proportion to the quality of sufficient rest and sleep achieved...Sweet Dreams!

1. Honma, K. et al., Sensational variation in the human circadian rhythm: dissociation between sleep and temperature rhythm, Am J.Physiol., 265(5), 885-891, 1992.
2. Rosenthal, L. et al., Enforced 24-hour recovery following sleep deprivation, Sleep, 14(5), 448-453, 1991.
3. Moses, P.L., FAQs: self analysis, ([email protected]), 1997; an interpretation of Lavie, P., The Enchanted World of Sleep, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1994.
4. Prinz, P.N. et al., Plasma growth during sleep in young and aged men, J. Gerontl., 38(5), 519-524, 1983.
5. Maschke, C. et al., The influence of nocturnal aircraft on sleep and catecholamine secretion, Schriftenr. Ver Wasser Boden Lufthyg., 88, 397-407, 1993.
6. Fruhstorfer, L. et al., Daytime noise and subsequent sleep in man, Eur J. Appl. Physiol., 53(2), 159-163, 1984.
7. Levine, B., et al., Fragmenting sleep diminishes its recuperative value, Sleep, 10(6), 590-599, 1987.
8. Taub, J.M., and Berger, R.J., The effects of changing the phase and duration of sleep, J. Exp. Psychol.[Human Percept.], 2(1), 30-41, 1976.
9. Prinz, P.N. et al., The effect of alcohol on sleep and nighttime plasma growth hormone and cortisol concentrations, J. Clin. Endocrinal. Metabol., 50(4), 759-764, 1980.
10. Balch, J.F. and Balch, P.A., Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Avery Publishing, Garden City, NY, 1990, 221-222.
11. Colgan, M., Optimum Sports Nutrition, Advanced Research Press, New York, 1993, 73-76.

Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 1450

you said it, sleep is one of the key ingredients to any muscle building equation. It is also a problem for me, and i suspect, many older bbrs. It is a struggle for me to get enough good quality sleep.


Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 801

I have to work a lot, so I don't have much time to sleep .

"The medals don't mean anything and the glory doesn't last. It's all about your happiness. The rewards are going to come, but my happiness is just loving the sport and having fun performing" ~ Jackie Joyner Kersee.