12 Ways Poor Sleep Kills Your Muscle Gains

by | Building Muscle, Recovery, Success

Do you want to build the most muscle in the shortest period possible?

Then sleep should be a top priority. In fact, it’s more important than training and diet [1]. Great workouts and perfect eating habits are a waste of time if you neglect recovery [2]. The body simply can’t function properly without good sleep.

Here are 12 common sleep mistakes that can kill your gains. We’ve also added solutions to each problem. Easy to implement tips to help you get shredded.

#1 Do Your Muscles Grow More During Sleep?

The process of muscle growth can be divided into 3 main stages:

  1. stimulus: training
  2. recovery: rest, sleep, good diet
  3. adaption: muscle growth (hypertrophy)

The body changes as a result of the first stages. The recovery stage is probably the most important of those two. Detraining may result in losing your gains. But poor recovery can reduce muscle mass even below baseline levels (untrained state).

Of all recovery factors sleep is the most important one. The body can adjust easier to a few days or bad dieting or poor rest than to a lack of sleep.

There’s a very strong correlation between the quality of sleep and the rate of muscle gained or lost [3] [4]. Many processes responsible for muscle maintenance, repair, and growth occur mostly during sleep [5]. But the power of sleep isn’t limited to the recovery stage

Your ability to perform and stimulate the muscles in the gym is also affected [6] [7]. Many of the effects are indirect. Examples include low motivation, poor ability to generate forces, and lowered hormone levels [8]. The result is a “bad” workout. This leads to less muscle growth.

#2 How Much Sleep Do You Need for Muscle Growth?

Sleep requirements don’t change drastically for recreational athletes. The general guidelines apply to trainees as well. Most people get optimal benefits sleeping between 7 to 9 hours [9].

Though extensive and hard training sessions may increase your sleep time by 1-2 hours. This will usually put you at the upper limit of the recommendation.

Due to genetic variations the guidelines may not apply to everyone. Some people might require way more or less. And some suffer more from mild sleep deprivation while others are barely affected [10].

#3 Are 6 Hours of Sleep Enough to Build Muscle?

A very tiny percentage of the population can thrive on 5 or 6 hours of sleep. Most of us need at least 7.5 hrs. Though the effects of sleep deprivation become more apparent as bedtime decreases [11].

Theoretically, you can build muscle even when you slightly reduce sleep time. But you’ll get less than optimal gains spending 6 hours in bed. This is assuming your training, rest, and diet are managed properly. But in reality, this is rarely the case.

Sleep is the catalyst for everything you do training and diet-wise. Going from 8 hrs to 6 hrs can be devastating if your diet is already bad. But if your training and eating habits are optimal, two extra hours of sleep will have a great positive impact.

Sleeping 5 hrs or less will certainly impact gym performance [12] [13]. You’re also likely to start losing your gains. Even if you’re taking care of all other fitness variables.

#4 Do Bodybuilders Need More Sleep?

It’s not so much that sleep time changes. But its importance increases even more. You have more to gain and even more to lose.

Extensive and more aggressive diets may lead to muscle loss. Sleep is one of your best tools to prevent that. It’s important you avoid sleep deprivation during such periods. And if you’re bulking, good sleep will maximize the amount of muscle growth.

People who train long and hard may need extra time in bed. There’s a lot of individual variation. It’s hard to tell just how much sleep time will increase. Though it’s rarely more than 1 hour on top of your normal needs.

#5 Is It Bad If You Rarely Go to Bed At The Same Time?

Total sleep time has the highest priority. Then it’s sleep quality. Lastly we have timing.

When you go to bed at random times you disrupt your natural circadian rhythm [14]. This is your biological clock that governs many bodily processes. When your circadian rhythm goes out of sync all manner of problems follow. Some affect muscle gaining and gym performance.

It’s important to maintain daily routines. Keep your meal timing, exercise, other activities, and bedtime consistent. Or at least around the same time of the day.

If your body expects to be in bed at a certain time, you’ll fall asleep faster and sleep deeper [15]. But if you lack any routine, your sleep will suffer [16]. The same is true for dieting and training.

#6 What Should I Eat Before Bed to Build More Muscle?

Before we talk about food, let’s address exercise. You can’t build muscle mass without proper stimulation. Working out signals the body to add more muscle. Food fuels the process. A great diet without exercise won’t result in muscle growth. You need to take care of both.

When it comes to food there are a few things to consider:

  • Total daily calories: it’s hard (it takes longer) to build muscle on a low-calorie diet. Usually you maintain, but don’t gain much. However, very aggressive (low calorie) diets may lead to muscle loss.
  • Total daily protein: muscles are made out of protein. You won’t increase your lean mass if you don’t consume enough protein [17].
  • Meal timing: muscle growth occurs mostly post-workout. You can maximize your gains by consuming most of your calories and protein around your workout.

In terms of pre-bed meals, no need to do anything too complicated. Make sure you ate something at least 2-3 hours before bedtime. Ideally a high protein meal (e.g. meat, eggs, or whey). Your body will have enough “building material” to work with while you’re asleep.

Apart from keeping meal timing consistent, don’t eat too close to bedtime. The transition to sleep mode may be delayed after a huge meal [18]. Also, feeling too full may lead to physical discomfort. This makes it hard to fall asleep.

Limit liquid consumption if you wake up often to go to the toilet. Stop water intake at least 2 hours before going to bed. Frequent nighttime urination can severely disturb sleep [19].

Lastly, experiment with meal composition. Some people tend to fall asleep faster after a high carb meal [20]. See what foods delay or speed up sleep onset. There are a lot of individual variations. Try changing meal size and proximity to bedtime to find the perfect combination.

#7 Are Naps Good for Muscle Growth?

As already mentioned total sleep time has the highest priority. If you can’t get enough sleep at night you can add extra naps. You can even use them strategically to recharge after a hard training session [21].

Note that a complete sleep cycle lasts 90 minutes. If you want to get the full benefits go for 1:30 hr naps. This way you can enter deep sleep. Your body’s ability to recover and restore are increased greatly during this time.

But if you’re limited in time, go for 30 minutes instead. Avoid anything in-between. If you wake up in the middle of deep sleep you’ll feel groggy and tired. This defeats the purpose of the nap.

However, you need at least 30 minutes to enter deep sleep. So a quick nap is not a problem. But if you go for a long one, complete the whole 90 min cycle.

#8 Will One Night of Bad Sleep Affect Gains?

Within the context of good sleep habits, a single bad night won’t make a difference. Accumulated sleep debt can be dealt with by sleeping more the next day [22]. You can also introduce naps to deal with bad sleep.

But you can’t make up for a week of poor sleep. Even if you spend most of the weekend in bed. It’s also important whether your sleep was affected before or after a workout day. Muscle grows mostly after training.

Let’s say you had an awesome workout. But barely got any sleep after that. You’ll likely build less muscle. However, poor sleep prior to the workout is not as bad. Your performance may not be great. But assuming you can recover properly post workout, you’ll still get good gains.

#9 Is Falling Asleep in Front of the TV Bad for You?

Bright light exposure at night has a notable impact on sleep quality. Blue light, in particular, sends a strong signal that it’s daytime. After you turn off the TV your brain still needs some time to get ready for sleep [23].

There’s a very gradual transition between day and night in nature. The body has time to get ready to rest. If you stare at a screen late into the night you delay the preparation processes [24] [25] [26].

When you close your eyes the body suddenly realizes it’s night. But it can’t rush the system-wide “shut down”. Instead of resting and recovering you spend half of the night in a semi-awake state.

To avoid such problems limit light exposure at night. Turn off or dim room lights. If you have to be in front of a screen use blue light blocking apps. Make sure all devices are in night mode.

You can also use light exposure strategically in the morning. It signals the brain the day has started. Preferably, get out in the sun as soon as you awake. This will help wake up faster and stay energized and awake [27].

As the day progresses start limiting light exposure. Sync your artificial environment to the rhythm of nature to minimize sleep issues [28]. Examples include problems falling asleep, decreased sleep time and overall quality.

#10 How Important Is Bedroom Temperature?

Changes in temperature can trigger somnogenic brain areas to initiate sleep [29]. In nature it gets colder around the time humans are supposed to be asleep. Increasing temperature signals the body to start waking up and stay alert.

This explains why proper room temperature is vital for a good night’s sleep. You need to avoid excessive heat at night. Ideally keeping your room a bit chilly. Otherwise it will take ages to fall asleep. Total sleep time may not be greatly affected. But deep sleep will suffer.

There’s no such thing as ideal room temperature. Though 60 to 67°F (16 to 20°C) is a good range for most people [30].

Bigger individuals may prefer slightly lower temperatures. Smaller people experience greater heat loss. They can stick to the higher end of the range. Or go even above the recommendation.

Keeping your room too cold is not a great idea either. You may need to experiment a bit until you find the ideal range. Error on the side of keeping your bedroom a bit colder.

#11 Can You Sleep After Drinking an Energy Drink?

The half-life of energy drinks is about 8 hrs on average. You’ll experience half the effects of caffeine several hours after consumption.

Caffeinated drinks affect mostly time spent in deep sleep [31]. Though they also make it harder to fall asleep. Or increase the chance of waking up at night. The effects are especially pronounced when energy drinks are consumed close to bedtime [32].

Possible problems include poor recovery, low energy, increased cravings, and moodiness the next day. To combat this some people start abusing energy drinks even more. That makes the problem worse.

About 6 to 8 hours before your usual bedtime stop consuming energy drinks and coffee.

#12 How Does Noise Affect Sleep Quality?

Apart from light exposure and temperature, noise pollution can also impact sleep [33]. The problem remains even if you aren’t consciously aware of it. Your subconscious will be distracted.

The irregularity of the sounds (e.g. traffic) keeps your brain alert. Because of this you won’t experience the full benefits of sleep [34]. Or you’ll need to spend more time in bed.

However, repetitive “soft” sounds are less problematic. In fact, certain types of repetitive tunes can help you fall asleep faster. A great example is white noise [35]. Though similar sounds occur in nature as well. Running water or raindrops also have a calming effect.

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[1] Sleep Duration and All-Cause Mortality: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies

[2] Partial Sleep Restriction Activates Immune Response-Related Gene Expression Pathways: Experimental and Epidemiological Studies in Humans

[3] Sleep and muscle recovery: endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis

[4] Sleep, Muscle Mass and Muscle Function in Older People

[5] REM sleep deprivation impairs muscle regeneration in rats

[6] Effect of 1 Week of Sleep Restriction on Testosterone Levels in Young Healthy Men

[7] The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players

[8] Poor sleep is associated with poorer physical performance and greater functional limitations in older women

[9] National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary

[10] Human genetics and sleep behavior

[11] Association between sleep duration and sarcopenia among community-dwelling older adults

[12] Inadequate sleep and muscle strength: Implications for resistance training

[13] Sleep deprivation and the effect on exercise performance

[14] Circadian preference, sleep and daytime behaviour in adolescence

[15] The Relationship Between Lifestyle Regularity and Subjective Sleep Quality

[16] Individual differences in the phase and amplitude of the human circadian temperature rhythm: with an emphasis on morningness-eveningness

[17] Coordinated collagen and muscle protein synthesis in human patella tendon and quadriceps muscle after exercise

[18] Meal Timing Regulates the Human Circadian System

[19] Sleep and nocturia

[20] High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset

[21] Sleep in Elite Athletes and Nutritional Interventions to Enhance Sleep

[22] Recovery from Unrecognized Sleep Loss Accumulated in Daily Life Improved Mood Regulation via Prefrontal Suppression of Amygdala Activity

[23] Exposure to Room Light before Bedtime Suppresses Melatonin Onset and Shortens Melatonin Duration in Humans

[24] Evening administration of melatonin and bright light: interactions on the EEG during sleep and wakefulness

[25] Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness

[26] Blue-enriched white light in the workplace improves self-reported alertness, performance and sleep quality

[27] Alleviation of sleep maintenance insomnia with timed exposure to bright light

[28] Thermoregulation as a sleep signaling system

[29] Ambient temperature and human sleep

[30] Coffee, caffeine, and sleep: A systematic review of epidemiological studies and randomized controlled trials

[31] Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed

[32] Environmental noise and sleep disturbances: A threat to health?

[33] Annoyance, sleep and concentration problems due to combined traffic noise and the benefit of a quiet side

[34] White noise and sleep induction

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