Most people know sleep is important for your health. Bodybuilders understand rest-time is grow-time and there is no better rest than sleeping.
Granted, your muscles begin repairing themselves as soon as you stop battering them in the weight room but just how important is sleeping to muscle recovery. This article will discuss this issue in more basic terms and target more basic weight lifters. Most of my articles are targeted towards this group as I believe they need the most help.
To truly understand sleep's importance I experimented with it and documented my findings. Let me point out this was not a professional study, which would have been confined to a laboratory setting thereby eliminating external factors.
Instead this was done with what I had available and there may have been factors that influenced my results.
The "experiment" was conducted during my regular life with my unpredictable work schedule. This is, however, how most people weight lift; there are many factors influencing their schedule, energy levels, etc, so maybe an experiment conducted in the realms of real life will be more beneficial than one in a lab setting with unrealistic conditions. Hold my findings to whatever value you will but I believe the results should be shared.
First, some important background information before I begin. My current schedule is setup to give me maximum resting time between workouts and to allow me to lift as heavy as possible for each body part.
I do not workout if I am overly sore. I believe it takes away from my workouts if I do. I merely take another rest day and push everything back a day.
My Schedule Is As Follows:
- Monday: Chest/Biceps
- Thursday: Back/Triceps
- Friday: Legs
- Saturday: Shoulders/Traps
I work chest with biceps instead of triceps because it allows me to lift much more weight with great form when I do not pre-fatigue the arm muscles.
11 Hours A Night
I began the experiment by sleeping roughly 11 hours a night. This went on for about 2 months, possible the only 2 months of my life I will get the opportunity to sleep that long every night.
During this time I would experience no muscle soreness except from my quad muscles. Those muscles would get sore the day after working them out and last about 4 days on average. My chest would also get sore about 2 days after the workout and stay sore for an average of 2 days.
5 Hours A Night
After those 2 months a work schedule forced me into 5 hours of sleep a night most nights. I waited a week to adjust to my new sleeping habits and slept for only 5 hours every night so I would have a regular sleeping pattern.
During this time I experienced muscle soreness for almost every muscle. Biceps were usually the exception.
The day after my workouts every muscle I worked out ached and support muscles I did not workout directly the day before also hurt. For example, the day after doing my back, my traps and neck would hurt. I had never experienced this before.
8 Hours A Night
Within a few months I got a better work schedule and began sleeping 8 hours every night.
This is the way I currently work and muscle soreness is somewhere in between the previous 2 situations I described (real surprise right?).
My major muscles like my chest, back, and quads ached a day or two after working out. Smaller muscles hardly ever ached and supporting muscles never hurt anymore.
A Few Side Notes
I workout whenever I have time that day. So from day to day my workout time varies but the time I workout on a specific day remains the same.
For Example: On Monday I workout in the afternoon and on Thursday I workout at night. I would workout at the same time the following Monday and Thursday.
I think this should be mentioned for the sake of keeping consistency in the experiment. If I changed the times I workout every day, then that would add more variables in the list of reason why my aches and pains came and went besides just the sleep I was getting.
Also in the gym my workout routine was basically the same for the sake of getting accurate results. One week I may have been benching a barbell and the next a dumbbell, but I would continue to alternate between the two from week to week.
I always went to failure, which varied slightly from day to day. The reps remained the same, for the most part, although the weight continued to increase throughout the experiment.
I attempted to keep as many variables constant as I could, (workout time, reps, and diet) so my results would not be altered to a point of being useless. The results seem to state (for me at least) that the ideal sleep time per night is between 8-11 hours.
Seems like a lot of sleep, but health professionals have always mentioned getting at least 8 hours of sleep.
From my own experience this is a good idea. 8 hours seems to keep my supporting muscles in great condition all the time. But that amount of sleep still leaves me sore.
I am an advocate of resting and healing so I try to avoid being sore, which I believe is actually possible if the proper rest is acquired. As I stated before, this experiment is only true for me but I have a feeling if you add a few more hours of sleep to your night you will end up with similar results.
Working out while sore has several negative consequences which include increased gym time due to a need to stretch and warm up longer, the burden of working out sore, which could force you to lift lighter than your best, and also the possibility of hindering the growth of a recovering muscle by not allowing it to heal adequately before stressing it again.
I did not go into biology due to the fact there are other articles here that already go into that detail. However, I believe some of them were lacking a simple breakdown of why you should take the time to rest and just how long it takes for an average bodybuilder to recover.
For myself I discovered that lacking sleep quickly leads to an overall breakdown of my body's ability to recover. If I were to try sleeping for less than 5 hours a night I wonder if muscles I had not even worked out at all would start getting sore, but I believe that is an experiment for another time.
The information I have provided will make me seriously contemplate pulling an "all-nighter". If I know I am going to workout the next day, I know somewhere along the line a sleep deficit will catch up with me.