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More than just a trip to dreamland, sleep plays a critical role in the process of building muscle. Simply put, you can’t make any serious muscle gains without giving your body sufficient rest every day. While there will be some variations, for most healthy adults, 7-9 hours of sleep is the optimal range.
By physical definition, sleep is “a condition of body and mind such as that which typically recurs for several hours every night, in which the nervous system is relatively inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness practically suspended.” Sleep is anabolic, helping to restore all systems in the body including the Immune System, the Skeletal System, the Nervous System and the Muscular System.
For our purposes, sleep is not only the period during which we rest our tired, aching muscles and our overworked brains. Sleep also goes hand-in-hand with weight training, serving as the period during which our torn muscles repair themselves, our bodies reenergize, and our muscles grow stronger than before. For any individual looking to make significant gains, sleep should be a priority.
There are two types of sleep that you alternate between over the course of the night: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM). In the typical person, sleep will occur in 90 minute cycles , alternating between NREM and REM 5-6 times.
NREM sleep is considered deep sleep, where muscle paralysis occurs and there is no prominent eye movement. NREM is broken down into sleep stages 1-3. Stage 1 is also known as relaxed wakefulness, is easy to awake from, and includes slow eye movement. In Stage 2, no eye movement occurs, one can easily be woken, and short bursts of high frequency brain activity is seen. Stage 3 is slow wave sleep or “deep sleep”. Stage 3 is particularly important for those looking to build muscle, but we will get into that a bit later.
REM sleep is the phase in which you dream. During REM sleep, your brain waves are particularly fast, homeostasis is slowed, and muscle paralysis occurs. Also known as paradoxical sleep, REM physiologically is similar to the waking state. Electrical and chemical activity in REM is characterized by an abundance of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, combined with a lack of the monoamine neurotransmitters histamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. All of this results in vivid dreams, which aid the brain in processing and storing new information.
During sleep, Adenosine (a neurotransmitter that produces ATP) levels decline, showing that the brain is “resting and recharging” by way of being less active. A recharging brain during sleep means a more alert brain the following day. More alertness obviously leads to an enhanced ability to train.
Let’s now focus on the restorative effects of NREM sleep, wherein during the first period of stage 3, Growth Hormone (GH) is released. GH is a naturally-produced peptide hormone in the body that stimulates growth, cell reproduction, and cell regeneration. As HGH is released, blood rushes from brain to muscles to facilitate recovery and regeneration. The parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and recuperate” post-stress system) is stimulated, while the sympathetic nervous system (the “fight or flight” stress-response system) is suppressed.
NREM is the most important phase of sleep to the person looking to make muscle gains, clearly. Not getting adequate sleep (remember, 7-9 hours is the sweet spot) is essentially cheating your body out of the most beneficial sleeping phase, ultimately resulting in less HGH being released, and fewer gains as a result of it.
During deep sleep, the body suppresses cortisol production. Cortisol is a hormone produced in the stress response that in which overly abundant and prolonged exposure can lead to excess fat storage, as well as muscle wasting. Suppressed cortisol means that the body is primed for anabolism. Deep sleep also promotes the release of Prolactin, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that may aid in joint recovery.
The benefits of getting adequate sleep are both clear and vast. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to get it. Here are a few things you can do to ensure that you fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and better:
Speaking of supplementation, Blackstone Labs offers two sleep formulas, designed to increase your quality of sleep and get you to sleep faster. Growth encourages natural, healthy sleep while increasing GH production. It includes valerian root and melatonin, which are two supplements known to promote rest. Velvet Bean Extract is a dopamine precursor, which also promotes GH release.
If falling asleep quickly is your problem, Anesthetized is your occasional solution. Anesthetized is designed to knock you out quickly and keep you in deep sleep, longer. Anesthetized differs from Growth in that it contains phenibut, a supplement that reduces anxiety and in larger doses acts as a tranquilizer to put you to sleep, quickly. Phenibut can be habit forming, which is why Anesthetized, while very effective, should only be used after intense training sessions.
It bears mentioning that too much of a good thing can in fact be a bad thing. Getting too much sleep will upset sleeping patterns, leaving you sluggish, and make it harder to fall asleep the next evening. 7-9 hours is the sweet spot for most.
Proper diet and training may be the keys to making gains, but it is deep sleep that’s the real MVP in muscle building department.