It’s been well established that both chronic and acute sleep deprivation can negatively impact numerous areas of physiological and psychological performance and health.

That being said, how can sleep quality and quantity impact an athlete’s ability to build and repair muscle tissue from training?

Lamon et al (2020 examined how one night of zero sleep can impact the body’s ability to build muscle. To investigate this question, they recruited some healthy young students and split them into two conditions:

1) Normal sleep
2) Zero sleep

To keep things constant, they ate the same meals (dinner, breakfast and lunch) so any changes in muscle protein synthesis (MPS – process that drives muscle growth) and their hormonal profile would be a result of sleep.

Following a night of zero sleep:

– MPS following a meal decreased by 18%.
– Testosterone decreased by 24% (anabolic).
– Cortisol increased by 21% (typically catabolic).
– Genes associated with muscle breakdown were unchanged.

These results would suggest that zero sleep can create a less anabolic environment and induce anabolic resistance.

Some thoughts:

1) You would rarely see an athlete sleep zero hours per night, but it does provide interesting insights if an athlete is sleep deprived over a long period of time.

2) Research by Saner et al (2020) shows similar results over the course of 5 days of sleep deprivation (4hrs per night).

3) How do these ‘snap shot’ measurements translate into long term consequences to the athlete?

4) The participants didn’t train (non-athletes). Considering you get robust 24-48 hour MPS responses post training, would this make the anabolic resistance here void?

5) Despite creating an unfavourable environment to build muscle, genes associated with muscle breakdown were unchanged. So sleep deprivation appears to impact growth, not breakdown.

So, if maximising muscle growth and recovery is important to you, make sure you get some sleep…

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