La La Land: Sleeping to Make Gains

One of the biggest mistakes one can make on their fitness journey is to underestimate the importance of rest and sufficient sleep. Most of the focus is placed on meal plans, training days, effective workout programs, and aesthetic progress and sleep is not often seen as a priority in terms of strength training and bodybuilding.


How many hours of sleep do I need every night?

It’s suggested that getting 8-9hours of sleep per night is optimal for cell and tissue recovery, as well as muscle repair and growth.

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There’s a good reason why newborns sleep like cats (18 hours a day!) and it’s because the human body secretes growth hormones (GH) while we sleep. Without enough rest, our bodies cannot secrete enough GH which is critical to building up tissues that peak while we slumber. GH also influences your body’s ability to fight fat which helps support the reasons for why adequate sleep is essential to the human body.


But isn’t my body working overtime AKA burning calories when I’m awake? Doesn’t that mean I’m STILL burning calories while I’m up late at night?

Some might think that because they’re up late nights, that their bodies are constantly burning calories, and therefore, they would lost more weight. The truth is, your body is able to burn fat more efficiently only IF it’s getting enough rest and recovery time. Studies have shown that those who get six hours of sleep or less tend to have poor insulin resistance. When this is the case, the body is unable to burn fat efficiently and becomes more prone to developing Type II diabetes.

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Another thing about insufficient sleep is that it increases your body’s production of cortisol (the stress hormone). Cortisol is a catabolic hormone that increases as your sleep decreases and this can affect your thyroid functions (which is what controls your metabolism). If you want to lessen your cortisol production, be mindful about relaxing more and definitely clock in more sleep at night. (Tip: sleeping in for more hours in the day does NOT make up for sleeping late the night before). Another thing about high cortisol levels? It’s been shown to increase belly fat in males. Yikes. So unless you’re going for a full-on couch potato Dad Bod, you better make sure you’re getting enough sleep.

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Okay maybe you’re also thinking, “Well how do you explain me waking up every morning so hungry I could eat a horse?” Sure, that makes sense. When you’re sleeping for nearly 10 hours, that’s pretty much like fasting and can be catabolic to muscle growth. Consider eating (something smart and clean) before bed and this may help prevent the catabolic process and instead increase protein synthesis. Protein synthesis takes place during REM but actually occurs IN the GI tract and not in the muscle tissues like most would assume. What happens is that muscle is broken down to provide your stomach with amino acids during this time (which your body recognises as ‘starvation’). If you have a snack before sleeping, you’re able to offset this and instead continue make gains.

A pretty smart snack before bed is a slow digesting protein (casein) like greek yogurt or cottage cheese. (Tip: you can also use low fat milk with your whey protein to make a casein drink.)


“Was up late, did some stuff, but mostly ate.”

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Have you ever noticed how staying up late nights cause you to have the munchies? That’s because insufficient sleep affects your hunger hormone, ghrelin, which can cause you to overeat. The better quality of sleep you get, the better your body can produce GH, ergo, the least likely you are going to store fat while you sleep. Sleeping late also affects brain function and alertness. It may hold back progress in your workouts, wreak havoc in your nutrition (eating lifestyle, AKA diet), and may also cause some acute emotional abnormalities.

So, what now?

If you want to make good and lasting gains, then you have to be as committed, disciplined, and diligent about the number of hours you sleep at night as you are with your workout program. You need to be as fiercely protective of your sleep time as you are about the squat rack (or whatever your favourite gym section is).

Be good to your body and your body will do you good. Remember that fitness is a lifestyle that requires 100% dedication, commitment, and mindfulness in order for you to reap its benefits. So practice your time management skills and organise your day so that you don’t end up scrambling for sleep late into the night.

Quick tips:

  • Set an alarm on your phone that reminds you that bedtime is coming up soon.
  • Set your alarm in the morning to prevent you from oversleeping.
  • Make sure your room is conducive to sleep: aim for cool room temperature, dark drapes and turn off any and all blue light that can prevent your brain from shutting down for the night.
  • Drink something warm to help your body prep for sleep. Use white noise if you need to (some will use sounds of rainfall, some opt for rainforest sound effects, and some others will choose an ocean’s waves–it’s really up to you).
  • Set your phone on Do Not Disturb or turn it off.





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