If your goal is muscle growth, you need to take advantage of every single hour of the day. You might not realize it, but sleeping hours can be the most anabolic (the state in which your body is more prone to build muscle) time of the day, if you’re using them right.
Sleep hygiene can help boost anabolism overnight while setting an optimal environment for muscle growth during the day. If you’re looking to take your gains to the next level, sleep hacks can help get you there.
Getting roughly eight hours of uninterrupted, good-quality sleep every night allows your body to recover and get ready to perform the next day.
It ensures that your muscle-building hormones are well balanced and that your body is functioning at a high level to create an optimal environment for muscle growth.
What Is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is basically a set of habits or behaviors that promote better sleep.
Just as you brush your teeth and floss for oral hygiene, you can shut off your screens or put up blackout curtains for sleep hygiene. But more on that later.
First, let’s take a look at how sleep benefits muscle growth and why sleep hacks are so important.
How Does Sleep Contribute to Efficient Muscle Growth?
Here are a few of the areas in which sleep sets the stage for muscle growth and optimize performance in the gym:
1. Maximum Testosterone Release
Optimal testosterone levels are essential for muscle growth—as well bone density, energy, vigor, body fat, and libido—and the majority of the hormone is released during your sleeping hours.
When this period is shortened, you’re not getting the benefits of maximum testosterone release (the cornerstone of muscle), and that carries over into the daytime.
Research has indicated that daytime testosterone levels drop up to 15% over the course of a week when sleep time is roughly five hours per night.
The average American sleeps a little more than six hours per night, while 30% report sleeping fewer hours than that.
The fact is that if you’re not getting sleep, you’re not getting the optimal level of testosterone required to build muscle and keep you energized.
2. Lower Cortisol
When you’re getting enough good quality sleep each night, cortisol levels stay low.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, is a catabolic (encouraging the breakdown of muscle) agent. If levels are elevated throughout the day, it becomes increasingly difficult to create an environment optimal for muscle growth.
Furthermore, the higher your cortisol levels are, the more difficult it is to sleep, creating a big risk for continuous sleep deprivation.
Other side effects of high cortisol include fat storage, slowed metabolism, and lack of focus, which all impact performance and body composition.
3. Better Body Composition
Because adequate sleep optimizes testosterone release and minimizes cortisol, it can lead to improvements in body composition.
Sleep’s effect on metabolism cannot be overstated because, quite frankly, it’s when your muscles recover and grow.
The highest levels of muscle-promoting hormones like testosterone and human growth hormone are released in these hours.
The profound effect of sleep on body composition has been noted by a few studies, and one in particular split participants into two groups that followed the same calorie-restricted diet.
One was instructed to sleep for 5.5 hours per night, while the other got 8.5 hours per night. Although both groups lost about the same amount of weight, the sleep-deprived group lost more lean mass and held on to more body fat.
Additionally, a lack of sleep can lead to cravings for low-quality foods like pastries and other sugary, fatty snacks throughout the day.
4. Improved Overall Performance
Sleep has major benefits for performance, too. And not just in the gym or on the sports field: It plays a major role in cognitive performance, so you make better decisions, have improved focus, and retain more information.
When it comes to exercise performance, sleep deprivation can decrease the production of glycogen, your body’s primary form of energy storage. With stored carbohydrates less available to provide energy for reps, you’ll run out of gas much faster and feel sluggish during sets.
5. Insulin Sensitivity
Poor sleep can also influence insulin sensitivity, which is very important for muscle growth. Insulin sensitivity helps insure your muscles are getting the carbohydrates and protein they need to both fuel workouts and repair tissue.
Studies indicate that poor sleep can contribute to insulin resistance and thereby weaken protein syntheses, reduce lean muscle mass, and contribute to fat gain.
Simple Sleep Hacks for Better Sleep Hygiene
You might not be shocked to learn that sleep is beneficial for muscle growth. Your problem might be finding ways to improve your sleep hygiene.
Cleaning up your sleep can make a significant difference in how you feel every day and how you perform in the gym.
It’s quite possible that it’s the missing link in unlocking your full muscle-building potential, reaching your fat loss goals, or simply feeling sharper.
Hack 1: Screen Time Shut Down
About an hour before bed, go around the house and shut down every screen you have—that includes the smartphone glued to your hand.
The blue lights used in tablet, smartphone, computer, and some television screens all signal your brain to stay awake. Exposure to light at night upsets your circadian rhythm—the sleep-wake cycle—and throws it for a big-time ride.
Blue lights are the worst culprits for night viewing because they supress melatonin release at a high rate. This is the hormone your body uses to induce sleep.
Research has indicated that screen exposure in the evening from e-readers, for example, significantly delays melatonin release and can squash sleep quality.
Use the time to read (print material like books, magazines, etc.), meditate, reflect on your day, take a bath, or make love to your partner.
Although it may not stimulate the libido, you could throw on a pair of blue-blocking glasses if you choose to watch television or use your computer in the evening.
Whatever you elect, it should be something relaxing that primes you for some shuteye and can be done in relative darkness. A small reading lamp should be okay, but any exposure to unnatural light before bed can influence sleep.
Hack 2: Stick to a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Having a set bedtime and wake time to stick to every single the day of the week might be the best way to enjoy the benefits of sleep.
People who go to bed and get up at the same time every day—including weekends—are at a lower risk for number of health conditions, including heart disease.
If you want to feel refreshed and primed every day, schedule your sleep like you would anything else.
Hack 3: Nap
Napping can be a controversial sleep hack, but it seems to me that if it’s done right, it can help you power through a tough workout or a taxing day. In fact, a nap may work better than a coffee.
So what do I mean by napping? First off, don’t use it as a crutch. If you’re scheduling a sleep but accounting for a 20-minute nap tomorrow, you’ll likely always find yourself trying to pay off sleep debt.
Instead, if you had to stay up a little later, had some trouble sleeping, or are just feeling a little dogged, sneak away for a 20- or 30-minute snooze. Make sure it’s no longer than that; otherwise you’ll enter a sleep cycle called slow-wave that could interfere with your night-time sleep while leaving you feeling pretty groggy when you wake up.
Also, don’t take it after about four o’clock in the afternoon so that it doesn’t interfere with your evening sleep.
Hack 4: Optimize Your Bedroom for Sleep
It’s possible that your bedroom is what’s holding you back from a good night’s sleep.
Is there light getting in? Do you have a TV set or computer in there? These things can all make it hard to catch quality shut eye.
I’d recommend buying some blackout blinds to keep all the light out, removing the television, phones, and lap top so you really have no incentive to do anything in bed but sleep, meditate, or have sex.
Hack 5: Magnesium Supplementation
Magnesium plays a role in over 320 bodily functions and is central to sleep quality. It can help your mind and muscles relax so that you’re in the mood for sleep.
Most Americans, however, are not getting nearly enough magnesium in their diet. To improve your sleep and prepare your body for overnight muscle growth, consider taking 400 milligrams (mg) per day of magnesium through a capsule or, perhaps more preferably, topical rub.
You can also increase your daily intake of magnesium by eating almonds, spinach, chard, yogurt, pumpkin seeds and black beans.
Hack 6: Getting Adequate Nutrition During the Day
With muscle growth as your goal, you want to make sure you’re getting the most out of these sleep hacks by making sure your body has the fuel it needs.
Muscle growth is ultimately determined by three factors: eating, sleeping, and training. Focus on optimizing protein synthesis and eating plenty of other nutrient-dense foods to feed your muscles and aid growth and recovery.
A wide variety of protein sources is recommended, and it’s also ideal to focus on getting all of your calories in during the day. Allowing about 12 hours of fasting each night helps your gut recover to improve digestion. Getting up in the middle of the night to slam back a protein shake will do more harm than good.
If you’re not lactose intolerant, using casein protein may be a smart decision for your last meal of the day. Although it won’t make a huge difference in your muscle growth, having some Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, or casein isolate may help induce sleep and optimize protein synthesis overnight.
If you experience indigestion from these items, don’t take them.
Optimize Muscle Growth and Sleep Hygiene Using Sleep Hacks
No matter how bad you want it, you’ll never have more than 24 hours in a day and you need to be spending at least seven to nine of them with uninterrupted sleep.
Without that, you’ll likely never realize your full potential inside the gym, on the sports field, or at work. So set your alarm, shut down the screen, and climb into bed!
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