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The Fit Five: Sleep Your Way to More Muscle

Our expert explains the importance of sleep for muscle building and fat loss.

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Think spending more time in the gym will help you achieve that dream body even sooner? Think again. Hitting the sack is the real secret to muscular size, strength, and efficient recovery. In fact, according to Nick Ebner, N.A.S.M.-C.P.T., P.I.C.P., "It just might be the most important element of your training." 

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Q1: Is there an ideal amount of sleep per night?

"Yes. Most studies show somewhere between 7-9 hours per night as ideal for most."

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Q2: What happens during sleep that helps build muscle?

"As we sleep, energy consumption is lowered, allowing us to use the high-quality food we eat during the day to more efficiently build muscle. Growth hormone is naturally released, improving muscular recovery and regeneration. Also, as we sleep the brain recharges. This is important for building muscle because a rested brain is a motivated and focused brain. In simple terms, when you sleep, you recover, and when you recover you replace, repair, and rebuild—all of which are needed for optimal progress."

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Q3: I've been having trouble sleeping. What can I do to make sure I fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer?

"A great tip to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer is to set up a sleep routine that occurs between 60-90 minutes before you go to bed. A sleep routine should consist of activities that relax and bring down the body. Try dimming the lights, shutting off electronics (including TV), closing your books, stretching, meditating, taking a hot shower or Epsom salt bath, writing in a journal, or any other things that are non-electronic and not physically taxing. You don't have to have the same routine every night, but try to make it occur in the same hours. Going to bed at a consistent time each night has shown to increase sleep quality as well."

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Q4: Why do I wake up in the middle of the night all the time? What makes this happen?

"Many things can cause this: non-regulated blood sugar, drinking too much liquid too close to bed, eating too close to bed, training too close to bed, not eating enough during the day, detoxification issues, hormonal imbalances, etc. Because the reasons we may wake up during the night vary, try making food your first variable toward getting your sleep in check. I suggest eating frequently throughout the day, eating enough calories each day, eating quality whole foods, and eating the right balance of protein to carbs to fat, which for each person is different. If this seems difficult to you, find a qualified health or nutrition coach to help you implement these strategies."

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Q5: How late can I work out without it interfering with my sleep?

"Generally speaking, for optimal sleep I suggest completing your training about 4-6 hours prior to going to bed. I give a two-hour difference in range because the type of training—let's say Olympic weightlifting compared to bodybuilding-style training—will affect the nervous system differently. However, if finishing your training three hours before bed is your only option, then weigh your risk versus reward and do what you must to see the results you strive for. In my opinion, training closer to bed is often better than not training at all."

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