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How sleep helps with muscle grow and recovery

It’s not just a common understanding that sleep is important for your fitness, but it’s also scientifically proven to influence your performance and help muscle grow and recovery.

In this post we will look at two main benefits of sleeping better and longer.


Lack of sleep in the UK

We are currently in the midst of a sleep loss epidemic; in the UK we average 6 hours and 35 mins of sleep per night which to some people may sound like a luxury!

Amongst the many physical and psychological impairments that insufficient sleep may present, one of the most underappreciated factors of sleep is the role it plays in the ability for your body to recover from physical activity!

Some of the key hormones our endocrine system will release, that support exercise recovery happens during our period of slumber however what happens if that slumber period is shorter than it could be?

The capacity for our muscles to recover reduces…. significantly!

One of those hormones is growth hormone which supports body composition and muscle repair and growth. For males, around 70% of growth hormone is released during NREM sleep stage three and four, which happen early into our sleep onset.

There are two key sleep disruptors that we can influence immediately.


About caffeine

The first key disruptor is caffeine and many studies have shown the effect caffeine has on disrupting the quality and quantity of your deep sleep. Caffeine has a quarter life of between 8 and 12 hours, meaning that if you have caffeine in any form at 12 noon, a quarter of that caffeine content can be swimming around your blood and brain 12 hours later.

In one of the most appropriate studies to date showing the specific effects of caffeine on sleep, a fixed amount of caffeine was taken at fixed points prior to sleep. Caffeine taken 6 hours before sleep demonstrated that it can take twice as long to fall asleep, you can lose over an hour of total sleep time, total deep sleep time and deep sleep quality is significantly reduced, and REM sleep is also reduced in quantity and quality.

With a reduction in deep sleep, it is likely you will see a reduction in the level of growth hormone secreted to support muscle repair and growth with a potential outcome being muscle atrophy.


Blue light exposure

The second disruptor we can influence is our blue light exposure.

We have all done it…. scrolling through our phone or tablet in bed; when we are deep into our mindless scroll, this is doing two things to your brain, stimulating it and tricking it. Stimulation is not creating a restful state for sleep onset meaning that stimulating our brain by browsing and the corresponding thoughts such as, “Should I buy it, should I not?” does not promote or produce restfulness, which can delay falling asleep.

But how does blue light exposure delay falling asleep? As blue light replicates daylight within the suprachiasmatic nucleus (body clock of the brain) this tricks the brain into thinking it is daylight. Consistent exposure to evening blue light emitting devices will delay the release of melatonin because of the effect on the suprachiasmatic nucleus which results on wakefulness and further delaying sleep onset.

So, what can we do to prevent this?


Solutions

Two very simple, actionable things we can do immediately are….

1. Apply a caffeine curfew.

Two simple things we can do is remove the pre workout espresso if training anytime later than 12 noon and remove the supercharged pre or post workout drink.

If you are an early bird and train before work, this curfew also applies to you. The trip to Starbucks to remove the afternoon slump will impair your deep sleep and further downstream your recovery from exercise.

2. Take a break from your screen.

If you work in front of a screen, one of the best things you can do for your mental health but also your evening shut eye is giving yourself a break from the screen, whether it be a lunch time walk or scheduled 5 minute breaks, getting outside will not only remove the stimulus to your brain it will also benefit your circadian clock which controls the release of melatonin.


Conclusion

By cutting out sleep disruptors we can create a much greater opportunity for a high-quality sleep. Doing this regularly can result in greater anabolic hormone release which in turn will provide improve our recovery from exercise!

With the likes of Lebron James, Roger Federer and Usain Bolt including sleep as part of their overall training approach….isn’t it time we did too?

Opinions expressed in this article are those

of the guest author and not necessarily Future Fit Training.


About the author


Sean Bailey

Sean Bailey, Future Fit Student, BBC North West SPOTY Get Inspired Unsung Hero of the Year 2017, Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Owner of Sean Bailey Wellness ‘specialising in wellness education including sleep’