When it comes to muscle growth and athletic performance, you should take three important pillars into consideration. They are regular exercise, balanced eating, and high-quality sleep. Assuming you already have the first two factors figured out, this post hones in on the third – sleep (napping specifically) and muscle growth.
Sleep has a notable impact on muscle recovery and growth. Without proper sleep, the time and effort you spend in the gym could, to a large extent, be in vain. Ideally, you should get 7-9 hours of high-quality sleep every night. We’ve covered this specific recommendation and the reasoning why in this article on needed nightly sleep hours for men.
What about daytime napping, though? Do naps increase muscle synthesis? If so, how can you make the most out of your naps?
Read on, to learn all you need to know about the relationship between napping and muscle growth. Plus, you’ll learn how you can implement power naps in your training regimen.
Do Naps Help Muscle Recovery?
YES, taking a nap after an intense workout can boost muscle recovery. Well-timed napping stimulates your pituitary gland, resulting in the release of Human Growth Hormone – essential for repairing/rebuilding muscle fiber and tissue. Also when you nap, muscle tension is relieved, helping them relax.
In general, lack of sufficient sleep impairs the production of growth hormones, which in turn hinders the process of repairing and rebuilding muscle tissues. What’s more, lack of sleep can be the cause of sore and tense muscles.
Another thing worth pointing out, is that long-term lack of sleep can result in chronic pain. So, with or without naps, make sure you get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
Does Napping Affect Your Gains?
In short, it does. However, the extent to which your gains (or muscle growth) are affected by napping, boils down to the quality of your naps.
As you probably know, there are two main stages of sleep: REM and Non-REM.
The first stage isn’t very critical to muscle growth; it has more to do with your brain. The second stage is the one that influences muscle growth the most.
During the Non-REM phase, also known as the deep sleep or slow-wave sleep phase (SWS), your breathing becomes slower and deeper than normal. Further, your body pressure drops, and your brain activity is at a minimum.
This allows your muscles to gain access to a greater percentage of your blood supply compared to when you’re awake. This greatly boosts their supply of oxygen and nutrients, helping to facilitate muscle tissue regeneration and growth.
Keep in mind, the stimulation of your pituitary gland – and the release of growth hormones that your body needs to lean out and repair muscle tissue – both take place during the Non-REM phase.
With that in mind, if the quality of your sleep or naps is impaired for whatever reason – be it by caffeine consumption or a sleep disorder – then the time your body spends in the Non-REM phase may be impeded. This can of course affect your muscle growth negatively.
Is It Normal to Feel Sleepy After Exercise?
Yes, it’s totally normal to feel sleepy after exerting yourself at the gym – especially if your workout was intense. Engaging in intense activities, such as high-intensity interval training (or H.I.I.T.), causes your body’s energy levels to drop. Since this drains your energy, you’re less likely to feel the same way after a light-intensity exercise.
You must keep in mind, however, that everyone’s different; and energy levels are affected by a wide range of factors. These include your diet, fitness/cardio level, hydration, night-time sleep quality, and underlying medical conditions.
Further, energy levels are affected by the type, duration, and frequency of your exercise. Sometimes, feeling sleepy may indicate that you’ve just over-exerted yourself at the gym.
But how exactly do energy levels dip in response to physical activity? During exercise, your body’s muscles undergo contractions. These contractions require energy that the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) molecule provides.
The more intense your workouts are, the more energy they’ll require, resulting in lower ATP levels. And the lower your ATP levels, the more you feel fatigued and tired. This is known as peripheral fatigue.
Exercise’s Effect on Your Central Nervous System
What’s more, during exercise, your central nervous system is constantly firing muscle-activating signals. By the end of an intense workout session, this firing becomes less charged, causing your muscles to let up, so to speak.
It’s also worth noting that your central nervous system’s capacity to activate your muscles, is affected by the release of serotonin and dopamine. Your body typically stimulates these two hormones during exercise. The more of these neurotransmitters your body releases, the more you’ll feel tired and sleepy.
4 Tips To Get the Most Out of Your Naps:
Napping can be super beneficial when it comes to muscle recovery and growth – but it has to be done right, so it doesn’t disrupt your nighttime sleep cycle.
First and foremost, you need to choose a proper time for napping. Ideally, you should nap between 1-3 p.m., as that’s the time of day at which your energy levels are most likely to drop. You should avoid napping at a later time in the day, to enjoy more quality sleep at night.
Secondly, before taking a post-workout nap, we recommend stretching your muscles. This will alleviate any stiffness, tension, or fatigue. We also recommend drinking enough water before and after your nap to keep your body hydrated.
Third, to enjoy a comfortable, replenishing nap, make sure your bedroom is a cool temperature. Aim for 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit. Also make sure your room is pitch black – as exposure to light can make it hard to sleep. Try wearing a sleep mask to shut out light. If you have blinds in your room, remember to close them.
Taking a nap at 1-3 PM can be tough, when the rest of the people in your area are wide awake. So if you live in a noisy area, try utilizing a white noise machine, earplugs, or noise-cancellation headphones. If you don’t have such a machine, turn on the AC or keep a fan running in your room.
As for the length of your naps, 20 minutes should be enough to re-energize your body. Our general rule of thumb here is to take a power nap, and actually get up when your body wakes you up. This ensures you’re naturally most rested, and don’t overdo it! You want to avoid taking long naps, so you don’t mess up your nighttime sleep cycle.
Fourth, but certainly not least, make sure not to prioritize naps over night-time sleep. If you know for a fact that taking a nap will disrupt your sleep at night, try not to nap. Even if you do nap, make sure to get 7-9 hours of sleep at night.
Final Thoughts On Napping, Muscle Recovery & Protein Synthesis
The bottom line is, taking a brief power nap – before or after your time in the gym – can boost muscle recovery and refuel your body for the rest of the day.
Keep in mind, if you’re going to take one before exercising, a short 20-minute nap should suffice. On the other hand, we recommend longer 45 to 60-minute naps, to boost recovery after workouts.
Experiment to see how you can optimize your sleep cycle, protein synthesis, and physique and fitness goals on your own. There’s no one-size-fits-all, but if you’re following the info contained in this post, you should be off to a roaring start.