Sleep – For More Muscle and Less Fat

Nate shouted it for the 15th time.  At 2:30am, while copy/pasting numbers on Microsoft Excel in our hotel room, the 50 Cent quote was as entertaining as it was motivating.

“Sleep is for those people who are broke!” (4:48)

Save this video for preworkout time and continue to knowledge below


I think this soundbite has a lot of validity.

When studying for an exam, I know that I’ll do better on a full 8 hours of sleep (rather than stay up and study) is always bullshit and a loser’s attitude.  Slam that Crystal Light Energy and cement the material in your brain.

Some people love sleep.  Others, like Bradley Cooper’s character in Limitless (2011), consider it a necessary annoyance preventing maximum success in life.


For centuries, Polyphasic sleep schedules have been attempted by unique individuals trying to maximize their waking hours.  The three minute Seinfeld clip below shows Kramer’s (hilariously unsuccessful) attempt to add years to his life by being awake longer.



If you’re thinking, where are you going with these youtube clips and random nonsense?

I do have a point.


Get Dat Bod

As we all know, there are two key components to changing our physique:

  1. Diet
  2. Training

Often, we bring the appropriate volume and intensity to our training sessions.  Protein, carbs and fat are on point.  But weeks turn into months and neither the mirror nor scale are showing us the goods.

That is because component number three is neglected:

3.  Sleep

Remember, lifting weights is not what makes our muscles grow; gym time is for tearing up muscle fibers.  As the fibers heal, we rest and feed them calories so they can grow back bigger than before.

Both diet and rest/recovery determine how our muscle fibers heal.  And sleep is a huge piece of recovery.

Sleep Overview

This will be dry but quick.  Stay with me – because it will allow you to understand why we should focus on sleep quality over quantity.

If you are short on time, at least skim for the “takeaways” and conclusion (the red ink).

There are five stages of sleep: 1-4 and REM.  Generally, a person goes from 1 to REM and back to 1 in a cycle.

Stage 1:  Leg jerks and a sense of falling.

Stage 2:  Brain waves begin to slow as the person approaches “deep” sleep.

Stages 3 and 4 are considered “deep” sleep.  These stages are most relevant to muscle recovery.

Growth Hormone (GH) is released during deep sleep.  Note: Artificial growth hormone is banned in professional sports, the NCAA and the Olympics.  Thus we can safely conclude this stuff is damn good for muscle growth.  And we can produce it by sleeping? Sign. Me. Up.

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) is the final stage of the sleep cycle.  Dreaming occurs during REM.  Your eyes move rapidly side to side, your muscles become immobile and your breathing is shallow and irregular.

Takeaway #1: the longer you are asleep, the more time you spend in REM and the less time you spend in “deep” sleep.

So, assuming you are a busy person – the kind of person who opts for efficient dieting over treadmill bloodbaths during fat loss – you want to optimize your sleep to promote muscle recovery.

Diminishing Marginal Utility

Remember econ 101?  If you don’t, that’s fine.

Example: You are starving, so you order five cheeseburgers.  Burger number one is orgasmic, the subsequent four give you less pleasure/satiety with each bite.

  • X = time slept
  • Utility = Level of muscle recovery

What does this mean?

We want to spend some time in “deep sleep” to produce that GH.  But how much time? The more we sleep  – 8 hours, 10 hours, 12 hours – the less time we spend in “deep sleep”.

We aren’t getting that bang for our buck.  GH production per hour in hours 8-12 is much lower than production during hours 1-6.

Takeaway #2: Focus on sleep quality over quantity to maximize GH production per hour slept

5-6 hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep is much more beneficial to muscle growth than 8-9 hours of poor sleep – fragmented by noise, light or other distractions.

If you are constantly waking up throughout the night, you fail to spend enough time in deep sleep – thus decreasing the amount of GH released and inhibiting maximum recovery.


Sleep & More Hormones


1.  More Sleep = Higher Testosterone Levels (good)

One study [1] of  ten healthy,  non-smoking,  trim twenty year olds showed that fragmented sleep led to ZERO nighttime T increases. During normal sleep these same ten young men had average night time testosterone increases of 20 to 30% or more. But with disturbed sleep their T flat lined at night.

Another study [4] showed that restricting sleep to under 5 hours per night for eight consecutive nights lead to a 15% decrease in testosterone levels.

And if you aren’t aware, testosterone gets you jacked.  It is also directly correlated with increased sex drive, aggression and self-confidence as well as lower levels of depression and social anxiety.

Takeaway #3: Increased quality and quantity of sleep boost testosterone levels

2.  Less Sleep = Higher Cortisol Levels (bad)

Unlike testosterone, which needed no introduction, cortisol is a lesser known hormone.

High cortisol levels for any prolonged period of time are bad and often lead to:

  • Proteolysis – muscle breakdown
  • Storage of additional abdominal fat
  • Increased rate of aging

Researchers at the University of Chicago have determined that sleep deprivation can interfere with how efficiently the body regulates the release of cortisol.

[3] In a study examining the impact of sleep deprivation on hormones, subjects were studied after six days of sleep deprivation (four hours per night) and again after full sleep recovery (six days of 12 hours per night). Normally, cortisol levels decrease rapidly during the evening as a person approaches their usual bedtime.


Results:  The rate of decrease of cortisol concentrations in the early evening was approximately six times slower in subjects who had undergone six days of sleep restriction than in subjects who were fully rested.

Takeaway #4:  Sleep more for lower cortisol levels


How Exactly Can I Use This Information?

You are in a difficult spot.  I’m telling you to get loads of high quality sleep, but you still have a job, a spouse, children, aging parents, friends, hobbies and countless other commitments.

Or maybe you just value your waking hours (aka: YOUR LIFE) more than a negligible increase in your biceps circumference – or an equally small decrease in abdominal pudge.

That is why I advise you to focus on the quality of your sleep.  All of the negative side effects on testosterone and cortisol came when sleep was restricted to five hours or less. Additionally, quality sleep gives you more time in the “deep” stages producing more GH.

Conclusion: Aim for six+ hours of high quality sleep.

  1. Get yourself some blackout curtains – I purchased a set and my room is pitch black.  It’s amazing. 
  2. Keep your room at a comfortable temperature – a colder room makes falling asleep easier.
  3. Don’t be a cheapskate on your bed or pillows
  4. Take your cheat day.  When you’re dieting, a high carbohydrate day increases your leptin levels.  This is good because low leptin can hurt your sleep.
  5. Do your best to eliminate any noise that could disturb you throughout the night.
  6. Avoid caffeine before sleep. 

A keynote speaker during a conference back in college dropped this one on me, and I’ve never forgotten it:

“The only thing better than sleeping in.. is waking up with a purpose.”

-John Blumberg

1) Journal of Clin Endo & Metab 86(3):1134f, 2001
2) Livestrong: Sleep for Building Muscle
3) Medscape: The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Hormones and Metabolism
4) Sleep Loss Dramatically Lowers Testosterone in Healthy Young Men June 2011
5) Man 2.0 Engineering the Alpha.  Romaniello, Bornstein

Comments for This Entry

  • Brittany

    Mike, great writing as always! I think another important part of the sleep picture is 'screen time' before bed. I saw a study done on young adults and teens that showed sleep quality was significantly better when all electronics had been turned off something like two hours before bed. That means no computers, no tv, and no smart phone! Something for you to look into.

    April 25, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Reply to this comment

    • ontheregimen

      Brittany, no screens before bed is GREAT advice - I can't believe I left that one off. I have seen similar studies, and my personal experience confirms it as well. Thanks for sharing. Wait... no smart phone for an hour? That can't be right! ;)

      April 26, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Reply to this comment

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