Sleep and Training: The Ultimate Balancing Act

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Whenever a client or athlete grows frustrated from their lack of progress in the gym it can almost always be attributed to sleep…or lack thereof.

I often say the best “supplement” you can invest in isn’t protein powder, pre-work energy drinks, or something like Acai Boost,1 but rather…

…a solid night’s sleep.

Today’s guest post by Baltimore based personal trainer/coach, Tim Hendren, reverberates my sentiments on the topic.

Which is….go to freakin bed.

Sleep and Training: The Ultimate Balancing Act

At this point it’s common knowledge that the “experts” online have hijacked the attention of the public.

While conflicting and generally poor fitness advice has flooded the internet to confuse the public, one area that even sound coaches and trainers talk out of both sides of their mouths is the relationship between training and sleep.

On many occasions, I have heard live coaches (myself included) or coaches I follow online give the “wake up earlier to get the work done” speech and then five minutes later hit the same person with the “well you aren’t getting enough sleep” speech to explain lack of progress, chronic fatigue, or generally feeling like shit at the gym and beyond.

Most people can’t do both.

If a coach spews this advice at a parent of an infant or toddler or an accountant trying to meet a deadline during the peak of tax season, you can bet it’s going to fall on deaf ears.

Getting nine hours of uninterrupted sleep and getting up at 5am to get a workout in is about as likely as Tracy Anderson entering a powerlifting meet, it isn’t happening, and even if it does, that training session won’t be pretty.

Sleep is important, getting the work done is important. It takes balance. The best program ever written is a total waste of time if you can’t recover from it.

As usual, the answer is in the grey area. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, training needs to be scaled back in terms of volume, intensity, or frequency. If you are especially sleep deprived, dialing back two of those three variables may be necessary to optimize your results until you are able to get more shut-eye.

Even if you are getting the required nutrition to support your frequent and intense bouts of training, you WILL be stuck in neutral if you aren’t getting sufficient sleep.

The Importance of Sleep        

We know that as Americans, we simply don’t sleep enough. In fact, according to a Gallup poll from a few years back, 40% of Americans are sleeping less than 7 hours per night.

While busy lifestyles, work schedules, and raising kids contribute to this lack of ZZZs, two underrated factors may be:

  • The brilliant Netflix feature that rolls the end of an episode directly into the next one in 5 seconds.
  • The graphics, sound, and online capabilities of the Call of Duty franchise has gotten totally insane.

Regardless of the root of the issue, this lack of sleep will wreak havoc on your production in the gym especially if your training sessions are frequent and intense.

Sleep deprivation will not only sap energy from your lifts, it will negatively impact you on a hormonal level by decreasing the release of testosterone (1) and increasing cortisol (2), an especially nasty combo when trying to gain strength, muscle mass, or lose body fat and even worse for males interested in having sex past the age of 35.

Furthermore, if you add quality sleep, you’ll have a much better chance at performing optimally in the gym (3). We know we need more sleep, but how?

How Do We Sleep for More Muscle?

A general rule of thumb is getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night to recover from training and support your effort in the weight room.

It’s important to note, however, that not everyone is going to be able to follow that advice 100% of the time.

Sometimes you are simply in a period of life (new baby, starting a new business, etc.) that doesn’t lend itself to a lot of sleep. While training is still encouraged under these circumstances, going balls to the wall with exercise is going to end up wasting time, effort, or causing injury.

Want a more restful night of sleep? Try implementing a couple of these tips to take advantage of all the benefits a great night of rest can provide.

1. Go to Bed Earlier

Common sense? Absolutely.

It’s also the easiest tip to implement and will yield the best results. I bet if there were some snazzy Instagram videos of shredded guys and girls going to bed at 9:30 on a Friday night, it would be a more popular thing to do.

2. Put Down the Screens an Hour or Two Before Bed Time (but after you finish this article).

This includes TVs, phones, laptops, iPads, and video games. The blue light from these popular devices is used to keep us alert and engaged. Helpful when writing a thesis, not so much when scrolling social media directly prior to bed. Blue light at night will completely disrupt the human body’s natural circadian rhythm hampering our ability to get a good night’s sleep. Put devices down a few hours before bed (out of arms reach), dim the lights, and read an actual paper book or magazine. Yeah, those still exist.

3. Stay Away From Caffeine in the Afternoon

Caffeine is glorious.

Its awakening effect has helped mankind move mountains, part seas, and beat deadlines. If it’s ingested too late however, it may affect sleep. Caffeine can stay in our system for up to 6 hours (4) so nix the 3pm cup of coffee used to finish strong at work.

Be careful of sneaky caffeinated items such as chocolate, soda (diet or regular), and even decaf coffee.

4. Avoid Alcohol

While this tip won’t win me a popularity contest, it simply must be stated. That glass or four of wine in the evening may help you cope with the shitty day you had and help you fall asleep faster (read: pass out), but it isn’t doing anything for your quality of sleep .(5)

With alcohol on board, it’s a good bet that the later stages of sleep most crucial for recovery from tough training will be disrupted. As usual, alcohol and progress in the gym simply don’t mix, use sparingly.

5. Your Bed is For Humans

Maybe it’s cold-hearted but the cats and dogs need to get kicked out of your bed.

How many times have you been woken up by your pet?

Think about it this way, every single time they move or nudge you, waking you up, you’re starting at square one of the sleep cycle. How are you going to reach the restorative stages of sleep if every 20 minutes Fido shoves his ass in your face?

If that doesn’t get you to train your pet to sleep in their own designated bed, ask yourself this question: would you let your spouse walk around outside all day on their bare feet and then climb into your clean bed with no bath or shower?


About the Author

Tim is an exercise science graduate and CSCS who has been training in Baltimore MD for over 14 years. While his specialty is body composition, he has extensive experience working with clients from young athletes to cardiac rehabilitation patients. Tim has been published in a variety of fitness publications and writes for his blog when he isn’t helping clients in person.

Being a former fat boy, Tim developed a deep seeded passion for training and nutrition in his teenage years after a major body transformation. This passion is what drives him to seek the best results for his clients and readers. Tim combines a knowledge base earned from years of practice in the field, research, and time spent under the bar with practical advice to get his clients to the next level.

You can find Tim on Instagram (HERE) or his blog (HERE).

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  1. Grassfed Acai berries dipped in Creatine filtered from the kidneys of a Centaur

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