Many of us that are shooting for that ripped muscular physique spend many hours in the gym. We spend many hours in the week preparing the right foods. We do this while trying to cram 30 hours of work into a 24 hour day. Many try to fit all that work in by saying, “I’ll just sleep less tonight and get more work done.” This is totally counter-productive on many levels. First, you are sleepier the next day and thus less focused and efficient at your tasks. To get by you over caffeinate and add catabolic stress to your body. Second, lack of sleep leads to more hunger and desire for unhealthy foods. This totally screws up your good intentions. Third, good sleep is the easiest way to maximize your muscle GAINS!
Sleep is the time when both your body and mind get to recuperate. Disordered sleep with difficulty falling to sleep, frequent awakenings, restless sleep activity, and low quantity are all signs of stress and actually add more stress to the situation. Sometimes lack sleep compounded by emotional or work related stress can cause over-training syndrome. Recovery debt from lack of sleep or lack of nutrients leads to over-training syndrome. Disordered sleep itself can be a sign of over-training manifesting from endocrine and nervous system dysfunction.
To understand how the quality of sleep affects your body’s recovery and metabolism it is important to explain the “architecture” of healthy sleep. Sleep occurs in a series of stages and goes through a number of cycles of those stages throughout a night of sleep.
Much like a workout with weights, sleep involves multiple sets with varying intensities. Consider sleep to be an “active” recuperation process
Sleep follows a pattern that alternates between two types of sleep: REM (rapid eye movement) and Non-REM sleep (NREM). NREM makes up approximately 75% of sleep and consists of 3 stages (the classic 3rd and 4th can be considered as one stage).
Stage 1 (N1): Light sleep, the border between being awake and falling asleep; drowsy, muscle jerks, and hallucination like occurrences
Stage 2 (N2): Onset of sleep, conscious awareness of the external environment ceases; muscles relax and body temperature drops.
Stage 3 (N3): This is considered deep or “slow wave sleep”; this is when most of the restorative effects of sleep occur; growth hormone is released
REM Sleep: “rapid eye movement”; 25% of the sleep cycle; REM occur after the first 90 minutes of sleep and then again every 90 minutes, as the night goes on the REM stage gets longer; this is a state very close to wakening but muscles are completely relaxed (somewhat paralyzed); dreams occur during REM; it is thought that memories are consolidated during this stage.
Sleep progresses in cycles of REM and NREM, with up to four or five cycles per night. The order of sleep stages is normally N1 → N2 → N3 → N2 → REM. More of deep sleep (N3) occurs earlier in the night, while the proportion of REM sleep increases in the cycles just before natural awakening. Ever feel like dreams are more real closer to wakening? Ever fall back to sleep on a lazy Sunday and have vivid dreams?
If this pattern is disrupted you can imagine that you might spend less time in the restorative N3 sleep. Monitoring your sleep can be performed via electroencephalograms (which are costly) or via monitoring of body motion. N3 and REM sleep are thought to be the most important stages for recuperative effects of sleep and are the stages where you are most immobile. The more active you are during sleep, the potentially less restorative your sleep is for your body and mind. There are many phone apps and actigraphy monitors that can give you this information.
We must make a conscious effort to get on a regular sleep schedule. It is during deep sleep that hormones like hGH are released adding to the restorative nature of sleep. The body can recover without any added stress being placed on the system. If the nutrients are there, muscles can regenerate.
Even the best intentioned sleeper will have a night where they lose a little sleep; studying, working on a project, etc. As long as you do not make a habit of limiting your sleep and accumulating sleep debt you can have a night like this now and then. Try to avoid more than 2 days of limited sleep. Accumulation of sleep debt over 4 to 5 days has proven detrimental effects on hormones and metabolism; decreased growth hormone, testosterone, and increased cortisol. Getting some extra sleep after a few days of deprivation is ok, but returning to a routine of 7 to 9 hours of sleep is critical to staying anabolic. Remember sleep is not being lazy and unproductive; it is actively recovering and rejuvenating your body and mind. Plan your sleep just like your diets and your workouts.
Some Tips for a Good Night Sleep:
Get in a routine: establish a regular bed time and wake time and stick to it as close as possible. Keep a regular waking time. Even if you go to bed late, get up at the same time every day. Your body runs on a biological clock that starts each morning when you open your eyes. If you sleep longer the clock starts later and you may have trouble going to sleep the following night.
Avoid Stimulants: avoid taking any stimulants within 4 to 5 hours of bed time. If you are having insomnia issues, avoid stimulants all together.
Avoid alcohol and OTC Sleep aids: alcohol can disrupt your sleep architecture and result in less restorative sleep; other sleep aids can be addicting and lead to bad habits and residual sleepiness upon waking.
Avoid exercising too close to bed time: getting your heart rate and body temperature up before bed time can be disruptive to healthy sleep and make it difficult to fall asleep.
“Wind-down”: get into the habit of dropping projects or studying with a period of relaxation (i.e. a recreational book, meditation, or visualization) prior to bed time.
Build yourself a cave: Some effort needs to be put into where you hibernate. You need a comfortable bed, pillow, and sheets. Make the room as dark and quiet as possible with curtains and ear plugs if necessary.
The Bed is for Sleep and Sex: Remove distractions like a TV, computers, cell phones. The bedroom is for sleeping not working and socializing with Facebook friends. The light from phones and computers can affect your brain’s response to night time. Stop using these devices at least an hour before bed.
Set the Thermostat: most people find it difficult to sleep in a hot room, but just be sure that the temperature suits your own level of comfort.
If you wake up in the night: get out of bed, go to a chair, have a glass of milk and read a little; don’t lie in bed staring at the ceiling.
Never go to Bed Angry: whether you are married or not this is good advice; if you fought with someone in the home, swallow your pride and apologize. If you are angry at others, try to forgive and forget. See the positives of any interaction in life.
In my next blog post, I will go over some of the best supplements for improving the quality and recuperative functions of your sleep. Now turn off your computer, wind down, and sleep well to live well!