Rest is one of the most important principles of exercise and often the most overlooked. Bodybuilders often look to change the amount of weight they lift or number of reps they perform during their workouts. What many of them don't realize is that the muscle adaptation, or growth, they're looking for is actually occurring during this crucial recovery process following their workout.
During this suspended state of animation, your body is doing exactly what you've been begging it to do ever since you lifted that first dumbbell: build muscle. But if you're one of the millions of Americans who don't get enough sleep, you need to take a good look at just how much your sleeping habits can affect your body's own muscle-building potential.
Many high-level weight lifters train quite frequently, sometimes more than five times per week, but this may not be a good idea for the novice. If you've just started lifting, give your body parts at least 48 hours to recover between workouts. Otherwise, you'll likely become more exhausted than your body can handle and will need more sleep than you can afford. Resting this much ensures that your muscles have enough time to repair and replenish their energy stores for your next trip to the gym.
If you're a seasoned lifter, you've reached a more highly conditioned state and can get away with more frequent training because your larger muscles have more tissue and can withstand the rigors of back-to-back sessions. According to a research published in the Journal of Applied Sports Science, well-trained athletes are able to tolerate more frequent high-intensity training sessions than their untrained counterparts. However, don't go thinking that just because you believe you're a seasoned lifter that you should train more frequently.
Being a college student, I infrequently undergo and witness many students pulling so-called "all-nighters." Our society is chronically sleep-deprived especially as we mature into our years. Long-term sleep deprivation has been linked to a number of problems including work-related accidents. Although sleep deprivation is far from lift-threatening for the average weight lifter, it can jeopardize your ability to have an effective workout and consistently getting less sleep than you need could lead to overtraining. Let's take a look at a few examples of how to avoid some common sleep-related pitfalls.
Whether you're a full-time student or a busy professional, you've probably had the misfortune of pulling an all-nighter on an important company project or exam. Needless to say, regardless of how much caffeine you manage to cram into your system the next morning, both your mind and body feel the effects of a night of sleep deprivation. What you may not realize is that you've just thrown a large monkey wrench into a very intricate aspect of your training program.
A prolonged lack of sleep has an intoxicating effect on your body. According to the Journal of Applied Sports Science, being awake for 24 hours has the same physical effect as a blood alcohol content of 0.096, which is above the legal driving limit in most states. Working out in this state has its obvious downside. For starters, your lack of muscular coordination places you at a much higher risk for injury. Just as you'd never head to the gym after drinking a few beers at your local tavern, you should never work out after not sleeping the night before. You're better off waiting until the next day when your body has been given proper rest.
You may have heard of or even practiced using a little alcohol to help you sleep. Like any other central nervous system depressant, alcohol does make it easier to fall asleep, but it can actually cause you to awaken before you're ready and make getting back to sleep somewhat challenging. As you may know, your body's recuperative processes rely heavily on deep sleep (REM or Stage 4 sleep). Waking up during the night makes it difficult for your body to fall into the kind of deep sleep you need for this recuperative process to occur. So if you have that glass of wine before you hit the sack, you'll have no problem getting to sleep. the catch is that you're tampering with the very process that helps you build bigger and stronger muscles.
If you take alcohol one step further (which I'm almost certain many of us have), it can be even more of a detriment to your training program. While binge drinking is a socially acceptable practice at many parties, that excess alcohol plowing its way through your system can make quality sleep hard to come by and may, therefore, affect your training for more than just a day. Alcohol actually affects the central nervous system for up to seven days.
Now that you've read all of this, you're asking what can I do to make sleep a more powerful ally? First of all, avoid exercising just before going to bed. Why? Body temperature is an important regulator of your sleep cycle. As your body temperature drops, you become sleepy. Now you know why it is so easy to fall asleep in an air conditioned room. Exercise significantly raises your core body temperature and makes you more vigilant. In fact, it could take several hours after a workout for your body temperature to return to normal.
An ideal situation would be to work out a few hours before bedtime, but if your schedule absolutely demands that you have to train in the evening, try the early evening. The more time between your workout and the time you go to bed, the better. You need to allow your body to cool down enough to promote a better night's sleep.
Although some so-called bodybuilding circles consider it a sin, try having a light snack before you turn in. Going to bed on an empty stomach makes getting a quality night's sleep difficult. But whatever bedtime snack you choose, make sure you don't overdo it, as I have a tendency to do in the off-season. Eating beyond your caloric needs may lead to the unwanted accumulation of fat.
In the end, the simplest rule of sleep is fairly straightforward: the more you're awake, the more sleep you'll need. Most health professionals recommend at least eight quality hours of sleep each night so you get the rest and recovery you need to make it through the next day. If you know you'll be cutting back on your sleep one night, take a brief nap during the day. While napping isn't nearly as effective as an entire night's sleep, it does help offset some negative effects of a total lack of sleep. Keep in mind that sleep is not only an important part of your training program but also vital to living a long and vigorous life. Until next time, train hard, train smart, think BIG!