There are plenty of known tactics for maximizing gains, and you’re using as many as you can. But unless you’re getting plenty of sleep, you’re not making the most of the time and energy you spend training.
Exercise, Gains, and The Missing Link
Most of us spend plenty of time optimizing workouts, pre-workout supplements, and macros to ensure that our gym time makes the biggest impact possible. But for many, there’s a missing link.
Sleep is essential if you want to maximize gains. The number one reason for this is that the amount of time you spend asleep is among the greatest predictors of testosterone. You’re probably aware of the connection between testosterone levels and muscle growth, but most people aren’t aware that inadequate sleep can lead to reduced testosterone production. Just one week spent getting five hours of sleep per night can lower your body’s testosterone level by a whopping 10 to 15 percent. Making matters worse, moderate sleep restriction can cause lower insulin—like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) as well.
Because both hormones play a vital role in muscle growth, it’s essential to do all you can to maintain adequate levels. It’s worth noting that the study cited here focused on young, healthy men. The older you are, the greater testosterone decline is likely to be.
Recovery is as important as workouts, and sleep should be among your top strategies for ensuring that your body has a chance to recover between sweat sessions. Your muscles grow while you’re sleeping – and other vital processes including immunity, skeletal growth, and the production of human growth hormone (HGH) depend on quality sleep as well. Your brain, heart, and metabolic functions are affected too. In fact, there’s no biological system that doesn’t require regular, restorative sleep.
Repeat after me: If you want to maximize gains and increase strength, you’ve got to make sleep a priority. Doing this can enhance other areas of your life as well: Your libido, concentration, stress, and overall energy levels are likely to improve when you get plenty of sleep. In other words, it’ll be easier to crush your workouts and have plenty of energy left over for other things that matter.
How Much Sleep is the Right Amount?
While there’s some disagreement about what constitutes the perfect amount of sleep, most experts agree that healthy adults need an average of seven to nine hours per night. The average person gets five or six hours per night, and this quickly adds up to a sleep deficit that can be difficult to amend.
Because every individual is different, it’s important to take a little time out to evaluate whether your current sleep schedule is working for or against you. Gauging is simple: Evaluate the way you feel throughout the day. If you tend to feel alert and energetic most of the time, you’re probably getting enough. If you often feel tired, or if you have trouble waking up in the morning, it’s likely that you will benefit by adding more sleep time to your routine.
Easy Ways to Get Better Sleep
Since you’re focusing on fitness, you’re probably doing quite a few things right. Tactics, like watching sugar intake, limiting alcohol consumption, and avoiding nicotine, aren’t just good for your overall health, they’re essential for getting plenty of deep, quality sleep, as well. Here are a few more ways to improve sleep.
- Get a good mattress. If you’re sleeping on an old, worn out mattress that doesn’t support your body, then you’re probably not sleeping as well as you would on a new, supportive mattress. The newest mattresses are surprisingly affordable, and many companies will deliver them to your home. Get a new pillow while you’re at it. Sleeping with your muscles in perfect alignment will help you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day.
- Try out a natural sleep supplement. Many of us face insomnia at some point. While prescription sleep medications aren’t likely to do you any favors, natural alternatives can help you relax without leaving you groggy. There are quite a few natural sleep supplements worth trying. Some offer added benefits such as caffeine detox and anxiety relief. These supplements aren’t known for causing dependence, and many come with no side effects.
- Be careful with workout timing. You don’t want to feel pumped at bedtime, so try to finish up at least two hours before your chosen bedtime. Check to see how you feel, and make adjustments if needed.
- Have some protein and carbs about an hour before bed. The combination of tryptophan-rich protein snacks and complex carbohydrates is ideal, since the carbs help the tryptophan cross the blood-brain barrier and move you toward better sleep. A bit of whole grain bread or granola, a banana, or some berries paired with a serving of nuts, cheese, turkey, or a hard-boiled egg is ideal. Nothing too heavy – just a little something.
- Keep your room dark. You might already know how important it is to limit screen time before bed. What you may not know is that any light that reaches into your room will also penetrate your closed eyelids and make its way to your hypothalamus, negatively impacting sleep. Turn your clock around so it faces away from you, shut off notifications on your phone, and keep tech like tablets and computers in another room.
Last but not least, give yourself a little time for changes to work. You may be among a fortunate minority who find it easy to adjust sleeping schedules quickly, but for most of us, it takes about a week to transform the way we sleep. Make small adjustments of just 30 minutes to an hour per day if you find the transition difficult. The good news? This is one of the easiest ways to maximize gains – and it’s among the most pleasurable, too.