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Sleep, Fat, Muscle, and Bodybuilding

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Sleep, Fat, Muscle, and Bodybuilding

Most people realize sleep is important but few realize how incredibly important it is for bodybuilders, athletes and people wanting to lose a few pounds.   If you want to gain muscle, lose fat, or maximize your athletic performance you cannot be sleep deprived.  We live in a world of sleep deprived people.  With every passing year there are more demands on our time: school, work, family, friends, facebook, television, the internet.   The average person sleeps an hour less each night than those a century ago and its not because we need less sleep.  If you are serious about losing fat or bodybuilding then you must get enough sleep, lets look at why its so important that you turn off the TV and go to bed early.

If you are sleep deprived:

  1. You get fatter
  2. You burn muscle rather than fat
  3. Your athletic skills decrease by 9%

How is that for three great reasons to get enough sleep???  The easiest way to lose fat is to get enough sleep! Sleep is very important in regulating hormones. Turns out that when you are sleep deprived your leptin decrease and your ghrelin levels increase which causes your metabolism to slow down. It also makes you hungrier so that you eat more. Sleep deprivation is a double-bad for people trying to lose weight – it makes you burn off fewer calories AND it makes you eat more, so you get FAT!  (references 1, 2, 3)

Sleep deprivation makes you burn muscle rather than fat! If you are dieting while sleep deprived, you will burn twice as much muscle and only half as much fat. The message is clear, if you are on any sort of a diet trying to get ripped you MUST get enough sleep or you will lose muscle instead of fat!  If you are eating less than your TDEE in an attempt to lose weight, you must get enough sleep or the weight you will be losing will be muscle instead of fat. (reference 4)

Sleep deprivation slow you down, its like being drunk all day long. Not only do your run 4.5% slower but your athletic skills decrease by 9%. Your free throw accuracy decreases by 9% and your three-point field goal accuracy decreases by 9%. The easiest way to be at your peak performance is to get enough sleep.  (references 5, 6)

Thats a pretty scary list and problems with not getting enough sleep and I haven’t even bother to bore you with it does to your ability to learn or the health problems associated with not getting enough sleep. You will note that I didn’t mention about more sleep helping you gain muscle. Although it seems reasonable that more sleep helps you gain muscle faster, I couldn’t find any solid proof. Sleep deprivation increases your cortisol which makes it harder to gain muscle and increases the risk of overtraining. There is a link between growth hormone and sleep but it isn’t clear to me.

Now I know that most of you say you get enough sleep but most of you are just fooling yourself. We are a planet of sleep deprived people. I have a very simple definition of sleep deprivation – if an alarm clock wakes you up, you are sleep deprived – period. You have been awakened before your body was fully rested and all its internal housekeeping is done. Most people use alarm clocks but you don’t have to, its all about time management.

All the time I hear people say “I don’t need a lot of sleep” – I don’t buy it. If sleeping too much makes you groggy and tired then you should see a doctor asap because you probably have sleep apnea.  If you “only need 6 hrs sleep” its probably because of stress, anxiety or too much caffeine consumption.  Although many can fall to sleep when very tired if they have residual caffeine in their systems or are stressed about something, when they wake up in the middle of the night they have real trouble getting back to sleep – this is not an indication that they don’t need more sleep!  Its an indication that they have a problem that needs solving so they can get the sleep their body needs!

So thats it, four great reasons to get enough sleep:

  1. makes you leaner
  2. makes you lose fat rather than muscle
  3. helps you gain muscle
  4. increases athletic skills

How to get enough sleep

You don’t have time for enough sleep?  WRONG!  Its all time management.  People always ask me how I have time for all the things I get accomplished every day. I work two jobs, I workout 2 hours a day, I do videos to upload to YouTube, I answer peoples questions on facebook and the AskScooby forum, I spend time with family and friends, I add content to my website, I travel,  and I get enough sleep.  If I can do it, you can too.  How do I accomplish that in 24 hours? Time management!  I set priorities and do the things that are important to me first!  Life is about priorities and most people spend way too much time doing unimportant things, cut those out so you have time for the really important stuff.  I don’t watch TV, I don’t use facebook except to answer peoples fitness questions, I don’t text, I never use chat, I never talk idly on the phone, I don’t play video games, I don’t clean my house, I only wash clothes every two weeks, I mow the lawn only once a month, the attic has never been cleaned out, and I only answer mail once a month – why?  Because those things are not nearly as important to me as my life goals and there isn’t time enough for everything.  If I have an unkept house and yard and have to wear a dirty pair of underpants, so be it.  🙂

I would like to share with you a simple book that changed my life 30 years ago, its called “Seven habits of highly effective people”.  This is the best $8 you will ever spend.  If you don’t have $8, here is the basic concept for free, its a top-down approach.  Start by writing the different roles in your life, for example: spouse, father, employee, athlete, author, student,  and artist.  Then write your long term goals for each of those roles.  Now break those down into short term goals.  Now break those down into small daily tasks.  Every morning when you get up, write down your goals for the day.  You should include a few small tasks from each of your roles.  For example, you goal in your role as author is to win the Pulitzer prize but you cant write at all and your reading vocabulary is at a 3rd grade level.  A great daily goal is to learn 3 new words every day!  Its an oppressive, impossible goal to think about winning the pulitzer prize but anybody can learn 3 new words in a day!  Even the loftiest goal is easy when you whittle away a little bit at it each day.


Every day, you make a little bit of progress toward your ultimate goals.  This feels SO good.  To know you are on track toward your ultimate goal and that you are determining your destiny.  If you don’t have goals, others will determine them for you – don’t let this happen!  Its easy to stay excited and invigorated about life when you are following your dreams.  Its also very easy to say “no” to things that are not a priority without feeling like you are missing anything.  I don’t watch Television, any television.  Do I miss it?  No!  The average American watches over 3 hours of TV a day and is on facebook over 1 hour a day, no wonder they are sleep deprived and cant accomplish their goals! 1/6 of their day wasted.  Please, buy this book and change your life!

So what on earth does time management have to do with sleep?  Everything!  Here is how you can get enough sleep without an alarm clock and still make it to work or school on time:

  1. Consume no caffeinated beverages, no coke, no coffee, no tea, no red bull, and no chocolate – not even in the morning.  Caffeine stays in your system a long time and even a strong dose of morning coffee can interfere with your sleep.
  2. Go to bed early, really early – 8pm or at latest 9pm even if you are “busy”.  Remember, sleep has to be a priority.  Keeping this regular schedule even on weekends is the best practice as the body likes a regular sleep schedule.  I know its a drag to tell your buddies at 9pm on Saturday night that you have to go to bed but they wont laugh so loud when your physique outpaces theirs.  Going to bed this early requires strict time management!
  3. Wake up naturally, for most people that will be 4-6am.
  4. Because you are up so early, you have lots of quality time in the morning before work or school. Start by making your todo list for the day and make sure to include a few items from all your goals.  The quiet early morning is a great time for study, be it school or just nutrition or physiology books for your bodybuilding.

This concept seems so foreign to us because in the western world we are SO used to being just in time and rush, rush, rush but there is an easier and lower stress way to run your life.  Instead of always being late and rushing, get places way early and then use any spare time once you get there to do something thats on your list of goals.  If it takes 15 minutes to get to work, allow 30 minutes for the commute.  If there is a traffic jam, you don’t stress.  If there is no traffic jam, use that 15 minutes to make those important calls or do other important tasks on your “todo” list.  Give it a try, once you see how stress free life can be you will never go back.

Getting enough sleep is vitally important for losing fat and gaining muscle, make sleep a priority in your life!


  1. Annals of Internal Medicine December 7, 2004 vol. 141 no. 11 846-850
  2. PLOS December 2004 Volume 1 Issue 3 e62
  3. Sleep Med Rev. 2007 June; 11(3): 163–178.
  4. Annals of Internal Medicine October 5, 2010 vol. 153 no. 7 435-441
  5. Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2000; 57:659-655
  6. SLEEP VOLUME 34, ISSUE 07 July 2011 Cheri Mah
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