The quality and amount of sleep does have a large impact on sports performance. This article will show you the importance of sleep to perform better in the gym and gain more muscles. Let’s start how sleep works.
Sleep occurs in a recurring cycle. This means there are different modes of sleep: REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep. Moreover, these modes are divided into five stages . Each is linked to specific brain waves and neuronal activity.
Stage one: Light sleep, where you drift in and out of sleep. You can be awaked easily. During this state eyes move slowly, and muscle activity slows. Stage two: Within ten minutes of light sleep, we hit the second stage, which lasts about 20 minutes. Your body starts to prepare for deep sleep, the heart rate slows down. Stage three and four: Deep sleep – While entering this stage, the brain starts producing delta waves. Furthermore, breathing and heart rate are at their lowest levels. REM Sleep: After the deep sleep, REM sleep comes up. This phase most likely happens 70 to 90 minutes after we fall asleep. The eyes are moving fast, and dreams occur.
These five stages of sleep happen iterative. One cycle is round about 90 to 110 minutes.
Which processes take place during sleep? We’ve seen that during sleep the body is still active. All activities happen without our conscious mind. There are important processes like hormone production. During sleep the body uses more energy than conserved, this means it uses our bodies resources. Nevertheless, the body goes into an anabolic state, in which our body is repaired, and growth occurs. The protein hormone HGH plays a key role in growth, repair and maintenance of the muscles. In addition to that amino acids play a large role to help building muscles. Within sleep we can build and recover every tissue in our body way faster than at any time during the day. During sleep your body is also fighting off infections because of an increasing level of white blood cells. Besides that, the immune system is positively infected in parts of digestion and cell renewal. Those named functions are initiated by our nervous system, which is controlled by the circadian clock. In general, sleep is indicated by a natural hormone called Melatonin. It is increased by night due to the circadian clock and decreases in the morning. It helps your body to sleep or become drowsy .
How much sleep is required for normal people? Giving a general answer would be to easy. Thus, we will have a closer look what the science says. The study of the national sleep foundation made in 2015, which collect results of a two years world-class study, will give us a good overview. They found out that young adults (18-25 years) need 7-9 hours of sleep per day. 6 hours of sleep may be appropriate but not optimal. More than 9 hours, up to 11 hours might be appropriate as well, but it’s depending on the specific human. Adults (26-64 years) should sleep 7-9 hours per day as well .
Why should athletes sleep for at least 8 hours? There is no doubt that sleep is essential for recovery and performance for athletes. Most important thing is that your sleep is regular. Try to have fixed times where you go to bed and you wake up. During the week most people have fixed times, but on the weekend, they sleep out long. This problem is called social jetlag. Your circadian clock is confused and the processes during sleep are disturbed. When your body has the right amount of sleep and your sleep time is on a regular basis you’ll wake up at the right time without setting an alarm. Depending on your fatigue, your body needs more or less sleep. For most athletes 8-9 hours of sleep should be fine. Some might need more. Recent studies found out that there is a direct correlation between performance in sport and sleep. Cheri Mah of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory found out that Stanford University women’s tennis team run faster sprints and hit more accurate tennis shots with 10 hours of sleep than while getting their usual amount . Furthermore, Mah’s research was extended to the basketball team. The investigation showed better sprints, higher shooting accuracy by 9% and a decreased reaction time .
Conclusion: Sleep is likely beneficial in reaching peak athletic performance. Depending on the specific athlete it’s important to find a good amount of sleep. To find out the right amount it is practical to observe your body over some weeks. How does he react on different amounts of sleep? If you got your right amount of sleep, try to have this on a fixed regular basis. Good sleep, nutrition and training will lead your body to the maximum protein synthesis and therefore to maximum muscle growth.
 BBC – Science & Nature – Human Body and Mind – What is sleep.
 What Happens When You Sleep?
 National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary. https://www.sleephealthjournal.org/article/S2352-7218%2815%2900015-7/fulltext
 If You’re an Athlete, You May Need More Sleep Than Your Sedentary Friends.
 Oxford University Press, The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players.