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Can you build muscle if you don't sleep enough?

Guestpert : Kenneth Rippetoe Category : Health, Fitness, and Beauty Tags : sleep, muscle recovery, Strength Training, lack of sleep, symptoms of fatigue

Kenneth is the founder and head coach of One with the Water, a nonprofit swim school that offers need-based scholarships to children with special needs, adults, low-income families, and service-disabled Veterans. He is a certified US Paralympic Disabilities Swim Coach and a strength and conditioning coach.


Sleep is an instrumental part of a healthy lifestyle, but how true is it that you won't build muscle successfully without adequate sleep? The effects of a lack of adequate sleep have long been well documented, but along with the major symptoms of long term sleep loss comes a visible detriment to muscle recovery during strength training. 

Lack of adequate sleep during strength training can lead three major muscle building roadblocks.

  1. During recovery, lack of sleep can lead to a reduction in competitive drive, determination, and training intensity. 
  2. Long term sleep loss also as an impact on mood, leading to higher levels of perceived fatigue, depression, and confusion.
  3. And finally, lack of sleep can inhibit the physiological tools our bodies use to adapt to the stress of strength training. 

Let’s talk about those vital physiological changes that occur during sleep. First, important hormone processes are occurring during the sleep cycle, including an increase in anabolic (muscle-building) hormones, and a simultaneous lowering of catabolic (muscle-wasting) hormones.

Second, irregular and unpredictable sleep patterns limit the recovery power of testosterone in your body. And finally, while we sleep, human growth hormones are being secreted in a pattern that lasts from 1.5-3.5 hours. When our sleep is disrupted, so are the benefits of this important anabolic hormone. (*information adapted from Practical Programming for Strength Training, pages 20-21). 

How much sleep is ideal for building muscle and offering muscle recovery after a workout? The US military recommends 7-8 hours. Moms across the world recommend from 10 hours for kids and at least 8 for adults. You're never at your best when you are fighting your natural sleep patterns or interrupting them with alarm clocks.For competitive athletes, ten hours a night or at least 8 hours with one or two naps a day of at least 2 hours, is recommended. Recovery is the most important factor in building muscle, and diet and rest are the most important factors in recovery.

Adaptation only occurs with adequate rest. Stress, from working out, is what creates physical changes in the body, for better (training and conditioning) or worse (disease and illness). To prevent disease and illness, adequate rest and sleep are required to prevent fatigue during a workout. (*Recommendations from The Physiology School - American Swimming Coaches)