Athletes and bodybuilders are often looking to the next 'breakthrough supplement' to help them achieve huge gains, break training plateaus or enhance recovery, but few people understand the true importance of sleep and how this can actually be that 'breakthrough supplement.' Here we analyze the mechanisms by which sleep can vastly improve the results you achieve.
Sleep and Performance
One study performed at Stanford University in America followed the female tennis team for 5 weeks as they tried to increase the amount they slept to 10 hours. What they found was that those who increased their sleep time ran faster sprints and hit fat more accurate tennis shots than those who got the usual amount of sleep. The same researcher also found in earlier studies that getting extra sleep vastly improve mood and alertness on both the male and female swim teams and men's basketball team, again at Stanford University in America.
This improved performance could be explained by the fact that during sleep your body not only recovers from exercise and repairs itself but it also uses this time to replenish critical neurotransmitters (specialised chemicals) such as dopamine, adrenalin, noradrenalin and acetylcholine. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that are used to relay, amplify and modulate signals between a neuron and another cell and they are basically responsible for motivation, alertness and focus, which explains why the studies conducted at Stanford University found performance in tennis improved with more sleep.
Providing your pre-sleep nutrition consists of a slow releasing protein that can drip feed amino acids to your muscles throughout the night, the time you sleep can be the most important for your muscles. This is because it's during this time that the body releases the most amount of growth compound (in men as much as 70% of your daily human growth compound secretion can occur during early sleep which is typically when the deepest sleep cycles occur.) So providing you get enough sleep, your body is capable of restoring organs, bone, and tissue and can replenish immune cells and build muscle during this time, more than any other time of the day.
So what happens when you don't get enough sleep? Well this can result in reduced anabolic hormones (such as growth hormone) and increased catabolic hormones like cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels can in turn suppress the immune system, reduce muscle mass and increase body fat. Also neurotransmitters are detrimentally affected meaning you won't be as focused and alert during training and may find it hard to even get motivated to visit the gym in the first place.