Bodybuilders and Sleep: How much sleep does one require?

Sleep Study

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Those hours In the gym may he the cause of muscle growth, but it is not during those hours In the gym when muscles grow It is while you are asleep that the bulk of muscle growth occurs. But that is not all that occurs. Sleep - once thought of as the absence of activity - is actually a time for a flurry of anabolic activity Hormone activity is Increased, amino acids are ferried into cells, waste products are removed at a more rapid pace. Body temperature drops, as dries blood pressure - especially when we sleep in a supine position.

Heart rate slows, as does metabolic rate. The body is at rest. At the same time, the brain is going wild. Vivid dreams light up the mental screen. Patterns of electrical impulses shift radically Even the amount of blood entering the brain varies widely throughout the night. Indeed, the idea that sleep is a time when nothing happens has been put to rest.


Growth hormone, released from the pituitary gland, plays a part in all growth and repair functions. Growth hormone (somatotropin) is no substitute for calories for energy or for protein for the actual structural components of muscle. But at the same time, no growth takes place without the support of growth hormone. One of the most interesting aspects of growth hormone is that it is not released steadily but rather in pulses And these pulses come about 60-90 minutes after you fall asleep, Nobody can say that the body should work this way but the pulse phenomenon does bring up some interesting possibilities; Chief among them are these: Can the total, amount of growth hormone release be increased by taking one or two long naps during the course of the day? Are there dietary factors that could help the body take advantage of the fact that growth hormone peak 60-90 minutes into the sleep cycle? Nobody knows for sure. But the possibilities are intriguing.


Growth hormone isn't the only thing that has Its ups and downs during sleep. Sleep, in fact, encompasses a number of cycles. The most important cycles have to do with states of arousal. The state of greatest arousal Is called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep; the state of least arousal Is tagged with the mundane non REM sleep. REM sleep is often mistakenly thought of as a state of low arousal, or "deep sleep," since this is where the vast majority of dreaming takes place. But actually it is during the non-REM period that deep sleep is occurring.

And it is during this time that most recuperation takes place. Not that REM sleep is less important in fact, while non-REM sleep rejuvenates the body REM sleep rejuvenates the mind. The length of REM sleep is, in fact, the most reliable predictor of how satisfying a night of sleep is. So important is REM sleep that when we are deprived of it one evening - as by repeated awakenings or the use of a depressant like alcohol - the body in its wisdom will provide more of it the next night.

Is there any particular significance to the movement of the eyeballs? There may be, but it is as yet undetermined. Eye movement, however, lends itself particularly well to measurement, and it remains one of the most reliable predictors of a wide range of factors related to sleep, including, of course, dream activity. But most important to bodybuilding athletes is that the type of sleep is even more important than GB release in determining the body's rates of growth and repair.


Like all questions pertaining to sleep, there is no simple answer here. We know, for example, that the optimum amount of sleep varies throughout a lifetime. But we also know that much about sleep is situational. If you were to ask, for example, how much sleep it takes to trounce Iraq's Republican Guard, the answer would be zero. There were so many weeping prisoners to process, that there was no time to sleep once the tanks started rolling. In fact, throughout the six-plus months our forces were in the Persian Gulf, many slept only three hours out of 24. The truth is, under combat conditions or prolonged waiting for combat to begin you basically get what you can.

Outside of crazy circumstances, though, the amount of sleep we need may be a function of multiple factors, including age. We all begin by sleeping 16 or so hours a day during the first year on earth. By the beginning of our second year, most of us are down to 12 or so hours of sleep a day. The need for sleep tapers off gradually until the teenage years when it levels off at around 9½ hours. Later, once entering adulthood, the typical person requires about eight hours sleep. The common belief that the need for sleep is greatly diminished in the elderly is actually a myth. The sad fact is that many older persons, for a variety of reasons, actually have trouble sleeping the number of hours they require.

But so far we have talked about average people. You are a bodybuilder. Does a bodybuilder need more sleep?


The US Navy like all branches of the service, has a vital interest in sleep. The reason is obvious: Keeping the world safe is a 24-hour-a-day job, and anything less than full alertness on full alert can be deadly Dr. Paul Naitoh, a research psychologist at the US Naval Research Center in San Diego, keeps a keen eye on the world of sleep for the Navy. And after years of surveillance, he reports that when it comes to sleep and performance, there is much more we don't know.

With regard to naps, for example, he reports, "There is no research to indicate one way or another whether napping will increase recovery". Same with muscle growth. "Sleep does, of course, allow time for the removal of lactate and other substances. Time for the muscles to clean house." Moving from the laboratory to the gym, you're likely to find a wide scope of answers to "How much sleep do you need?" Shawn Ray gets by on seven hours a night, without any naps during the day.

Up and coming giant Paul Dillet, on the other hand, requires only six hours, without any daytime naps. But then there is Eddie Coan. The champion powerlifter from Chicago, known to many as the world's strongest man, needs eight hours. At least that's what he admits to. According to a well-placed source close to Coan, though he might not admit it, Eddie has difficulty getting through an afternoon without a 2-3 hour snooze. While there may be no precise answer to bow much sleep do you need?, this much we know: You need enough. And getting enough doesn't always come easy.


Once you have to start thinking about it, you're already in trouble. That's the way it is with falling asleep. After taking the process for granted all of our lives, suddenly many of us find that falling asleep isn't as easy as lying down and closing our eyes. Sleeping pills, both prescription and over-the-counter, are remedies many persons turn to. But before you drug yourself, consider some alternatives, the most important of which perhaps being to eliminate the drugs you're already using. Dump the caffeine. Hundreds of thousands of people each year go to sleep experts, mindless of the fact that they themselves are the proximate cause of their troubles. Caffeine has become such a part of the culture that coffee break now appears in many dictionaries.

The danger with caffeine is that we become so accustomed to it, we start to think it isn't really affecting us. Then, BAM! You lurch from your sleep at night. Or your heart begins to race just before you were about to drift off to dreamland. The problem with caffeine is not only the punch it packs. Caffeine has a secondary effect as well, in that it causes the loss of vital minerals that promote relaxation and sleep, including calcium, magnesium and potassium. Anyone having sleeping problems should drop the caffeine. Plain and simple. You could just cut hack. But the problem then is that less of it will have a greater effect. So head for the decaf. (And wean yourself of that as well.)

Be advised, however, that caffeine is a potent drug, and it makes sense to cut back gradually. Sudden withdrawal can bring depression and headaches - sometimes monstrous ones. Hold the alcohol. Beer, wine and hard liquor are great temptations to anyone having difficulty falling asleep. But while getting sloshed, or even downing a drink or two, can put you to sleep, it will not be a restful sleep. Alcohol interferes with the brain's sleep center, with one result being that REM sleep is suppressed. The price for nodding off with glass in your hand will be fatigue and irritability the next day. Alcohol is no answer to sleep disorders.

Complex carbohydrate foods. Until a year or so ago, the supplemental amino acid L-tryptophan was a very popular sleep remedy. But if you know how foods work, you can increase the delivery of L-tryptophan to your brain. Maybe not in the quantities as would occur with a supplement. But close enough. When you eat a high-carbohydrate meal - one that is also low in protein and fat - blood insulin levels will be raised. Insulin has the effect of stripping amino acids from carrier proteins (mostly albumin). But one amino acid forms a closer bond, and insulin does not strip it away. So white levels of other amino acids go down, the relative level of L-tryptophan (though not the absolute amount) is raised. As a result, L-tryptophan faces less competition from other amino acids in its trek across the blood-brain barrier.

Establish a fixed sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at set times. This helps to stabilize your body clock, if you're not asleep in 15-30 minutes, get out of bed and read for a while. Control your sleep environment Keep room temperature comfortable. Get rid of noise any way you can. Light ear plugs or a "white noise" machine can help.

Avoid money matters before bedtime. Could there be a worse time for balancing your checkbook or deciding what too-expensive car to lease? A bed is for the two "S's." Sleep and sex. Anything else should take place elsewhere. Don't exercise too late. Exercise is one of the very best things you can do to get a good night's sleep - unless you do it too late in the evening.

This problem sometimes comes up when, for example, space at an ice skating rink or tennis court is at a premium and available only in the later evening hours. Unfortunately, if you exercise late you may find your sleep time beginning to move backwards.

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