The Z-factor; how sleep makes you bigger and stronger

Catching some shut eye, studying the back of your eyelids, counting sheep, catching some zzzz’s; no matter how we put it, we all need our sleep. Since the beginning of time, humans have required sleep, and a fair amount of it. We all know how not getting enough sleep can affect us. What we may not stop to realize is how important sleep is to people who exercise regularly and how it can help repair damaged muscles.


While we may be unaware, our body is carrying out many important processes while we sleep. On a basic level, sleep consists of two different cycles; REM sleep and non-REM sleep. These two different cycles carry out different functions and repeat themselves several times during the hours that we sleep. REM sleep is required by the brain and helps restore the mind. Non-REM sleep, also known as sleep stages three and four, slow-wave, or deep sleep, are essential to our physical restoration.

It is during the non-REM sleep stage that the blood pressure lowers and we breath slower and deeper. Very little brain activity occurs during this time period. It is at this point that the blood supply to the muscles increases. The increase in blood flow helps extra oxygen and nutrients to promote growth and healing within the muscles and other areas of the body. During this phase of sleep muscles and various other tissues within the body can focus on cell growth and regeneration. Protein metabolism increases during sleep and the body constructs larger molecules to repair muscles and other body systems.

When the body enters non-REM sleep the pituitary gland releases growth hormone. This hormone is what stimulates muscle repair and tissue growth. If we are lacking sleep or getting poor quality sleep, this hormone is not secreted as it should be. This can lead to obesity, muscle loss, and the reduced ability to exercise.

People who exercise on a regular basis are constantly in the process of tearing down muscles and building them back up. The exercise breaks them down by causing a large number of microscopic tears, while resting and sleeping helps the body build them back up, causing them to grow bigger. Muscle recovery, in the form of sleep, is vital to strength and endurance training. While exercise is important to the body and necessary for building bigger muscles, without sleep and proper nutrition muscle growth cannot occur.

Sleep provides a time for the body to heal and repair itself, making it essential to people who are exercising on a regular basis. Without proper sleep, muscles in the body do not have the time, nutrients, blood supply, or hormones necessary to rebuild and restore themselves.

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