How Muscles Grow During Sleep

Everyone has bumbled through a day at work because of a poor night’s sleep. Unfortunately, lack of sleep does more than making your eyelids droop. It affects all aspects of your health from your blood pressure to appetite. When you’re trying to build a healthy lifestyle and improve your physique, lack of sleep can get in the way of building muscle.

Are you amongst those who put off getting the rest they need? Maybe it’s binge-watching Netflix or scrolling through social media late into the night. You may have good reasons like work obligations or a full family schedule. You probably tell yourself you’ll catch up on sleep over the weekend, but the truth is you aren’t doing yourself any favors.

The average adult needs a full seven to nine hours of sleep every day for the body to function normally. Without that time spent catching your zzz’s, at the very least, you feel more achy than usual and, at worst, you’re setting yourself up for serious injuries.

Sleep deprivation of any kind, whether it’s one night or insomnia (prolonged sleep loss), interferes with the body’s ability to build and repair muscle tissue. When you hear of muscle damage, your first thought might be ice packs and crutches, but muscles fatigue and wear down from everyday use.

A number of essential processes take place while you’re off in dreamland. Sleep plays a permissive role in the body’s ability to repair the damage. If the body doesn’t get “permission” to take care of business, damage doesn’t get fully taken care of, weakening your muscles. Weak muscles are more prone to injury even from simple tasks.

To get an idea of what it takes for muscles to get repaired, you have to break down the sleep cycle. During a typical night, you experience five or six sleep cycles wherein you enter all five sleep stages. Muscle repair and recovery takes place during stage 3, the first of the deep sleep stages.  It’s in this stage that eye and muscle movement stops and the body starts releasing growth hormone to build and repair muscle tissue.

Growth hormone peaks typically during the first sleep cycle of the night, but when you get to bed late or delay sleep the timing and level of the peak changes. You might not think that makes a big difference, but to your body, it does. Growth hormone still peaks when you’re sleep deprived, but it does so during the second cycle of the night and doesn’t reach the levels it normally would have had you gotten a full night’s sleep.

Muscle strength, flexibility, and responsiveness are all reduced when you’re sleep deprived, and so do your chances of recovering at a reasonable rate. Simply put, any muscle damage you do is going to last longer than usual unless you get on a regular sleep schedule.

Going to bed at the same time every night even on weekends is one of the best ways to get the rest you need. It’s especially important to keep a regular bedtime if you’re on an intense workout schedule. Those who train hard may need to aim for more than nine hours of sleep to keep up with the strain put on muscles.

Once you’re in bed, there are no guarantees you’ll instantly fall asleep. That’s when it’s time to take a good look at your sleep environment to make sure you’ve created an atmosphere that will support the adequate rest. A mattress that’s both breathable and supportive of your preferred sleep position can help keep you comfortable and cool. Keeping the room temperature between 60 to 68 degrees also helps. Blackout curtains are another good idea if you’re battling light or sound pollution.

You can also look for ways to both maximize your sleep and muscle health. Try eating a late night snack that gives you a boost to both. Foods like yogurt, cheese, almonds, and bananas have nutrients that are used to produce melatonin, a hormone responsible for triggering the sleep cycle. Combine your sleep-promoting snack with a protein-packed chaser to give your muscles a head start. Protein taken 30 minutes before bed gets metabolized and used for muscle repair.

With the right combination of nutrition and sleep, you can set yourself up for improved muscle recovery. Not only will your muscles be able to recover in less time but you’ll be building the strength and endurance that you need to avoid potential injuries.

DC., CCWP., health explorer, researcher and obsessor of all things health related.