Sleep or Not to Sleep!

By Yohnnie Shambourger, 1995 IFBB Mr. Universe

Let’s get BIG – the common cry around the gym. “I know how to get big,” shouts someone. “Eat good and lift heavy, that’s how you get big!” Almost! There’s another important factor that’s often overlooked – sleep. When you train heavy, you actually destroy microscopic bits of muscle fiber. This produces “micro-tears” and the body needs time to repair the damage muscle by thickening the muscle fibers to adapt to the added stress. This type of protection translates into added muscular size. Also, Human Growth Hormones (HGH), a natural anabolic hormone produced by the pituitary gland is secreted in its greatest quantity during the first two hours of sleep. Human Growth Hormones has the effect of promoting increased muscle size as well as reduced fat storage. Depriving oneself of adequate amount of sleep will result in the diminished amount of HGH production retarding your muscle development.

When we lay down to rest at night our bodies transverse through numerous stages of sleep. Sleep is divided into two distinct states known as non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) stages 1 though 4 and rapid eye movement sleep (REM). According to Dr. David Duhon, M. D. from the Sleep Disorders Center of Central Texas, “ These two states occur in a roughly 90 minute cycle which is repeated 5 to 6 times a night and include four stages of NREM and REM.” As we fall asleep we enter into a relax state called stage 1 and begin our first “sleep cycle”. From there we progress through stage 2 and stage 3 until we reach stage 4 often called delta sleep or slow wave sleep because of the very high voltage, slow brain waves. Then all of a sudden the brain immediately change gears into a very active brain wave pattern known as REM sleep. Most of the beneficial effects of sleep occur during the deeper sleep periods (REM sleep).

Dr. Duhon continues, “This REM state will last 10-20 minutes and then we “fall” back down into stage 2 again. This is the end of a sleep cycle and then it all starts over again, except we gradually loose our delta sleep and replace it with longer and longer periods of alternating stages 2 and REM sleep. By the final sleep cycle of the night, we will spend approximately half our time in stage 2 and half in REM.”

As a lifetime natural bodybuilder I too discover the benefits of sleep when my first child was born. During that first year I had to adjust my training schedule to allow me more time at home and my nightly rest increased from 5 hours to 7 ½ hours of sleep a night. To my surprise the muscular development I acquired that year was astonishing.

It is so important for all athletes to understand the value of sleep and never sacrifice a good night sleep for more time in the gym. In order to promote restful slumber you should try not to train too close to the time that you plan to go to sleep. The stimulating effects of exercise will tend to slow down sleep onset.

Remember, “getting big is a byproduct of sleep”. So don’t deprive yourself of your full potential. Now, go get some sleep!