Chemicals in the Night
Load Up Your Brain and Gain Access
To Your Bodies Most Powerful Natural Hormones
AMS Advisory Board
Founder Andrich Fitness and Nutrition Inc.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced bodybuilder, or new to the muscle-building scene, this article contains information that is invaluable to anyone serious about getting bigger and stronger with single digit levels of bodyfat. This article is about sleep, and in case you didn’t know, science has now shown that two of the key determinants for body composition are, 1) getting enough total sleep each night, and 2) getting adequate deep, slow wave sleep–– and more is definitely better i. However these days, due to various sleep related problems, over 40% of all Americans don’t know what it’s like to wake up feeling refreshed. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons why as a nation we struggle to lose weight––especially fat.
Don’t misunderstand, I know that as bodybuilders we do just about everything different than average Americans, but we aren’t immune to waking up feeling tired, and totally burned out. Truth is bodybuilders love to push the envelope, and that just might be the reason we rationalize sleeping less. Sadly, most of the time we don’t even realize how bad our sleep habits are because we can always turn to pre-workout ****tails to get through our training, and grab a grip of stimulants to fry the fat off our bodies and keep us amped all day. I’m guilty of this myself, and more than I like to admit. The fact is if you don’t put some effort towards “crushing” it when you sleep, you’ll never make it up training harder in the gym. So if you find yourself pushing more and more stimulants to be productive, or don’t feel like you’re rested enough when you get out of the rack, read on and find out how to master one of bodybuilding undisputed commandments––SLEEP.
Your Circadian Rhythm––Yep, You’re Getting Sleepy
We’re all hardwired from birth with “software”, so to speak, that regulates our physiological, behavioral and biochemical processes in 24-hour cycles. This software is called your circadian rhythm, which some researchers call your “internal” or “humanclock”. Interpreting the lengths of each day and night as well as other signs allows your internal clock to create your individual sleep/wake cycle.
When it’s time to sleep your internal clock sends a signal to your pineal gland to secrete the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is the biochemical signal that drives the system that regulates the sleep-wake cycle by chemically causing drowsiness. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that regulates sleepiness. It is made in the brain, where tryptophan is converted into serotonin and then into melatonin, which is released at night by the pineal gland to induce and maintain sleep.
The problem with this elegantly designed system is that stress, stimulants and age can all reduce the production and release of melatonin, and the production of serotonin.
The age-related decline in melatonin is well established and by the time you turn 30, your production is approximately two-thirds less than its peak (see chart below).
Priming Your Internal Clock
Since we know that your internal clock uses melatonin and serotonin to keep your sleep cycle on track, there really isn’t any excuse for letting this part of your program fall victim to age related decline or a self-indulgent highly “amped” lifestyle. The first nutrient you should consider adding to your program is Melatonin. This compound has been widely used and studied and sold as a nutritional supplement/sleep aid since around 1994. The most important thing for bodybuilders to know is that recent data suggest that melatonin taken in fairly low dosages is best for shortening the time needed to fall asleep and improving sleep effectiveness. In a placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover study conducted in the UK, found that single evening doses of melatonin (0.3 mg and 1.0 mg orally) significantly increased Actual Sleep Time, Sleep Efficiency, non-REM Sleep and REM Sleep Latencyii . In effect, the low dose melatonin seemed to work in concert with the subjects’ own melatonin output for maximum effect.
Stages of Sleep
The two main types of sleep are, REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and Non-REM (NREM) sleep. REM sleep is when you do most active dreaming. In fact, your eyes actually move back and forth during this stage, thus the name, REM sleep. Non-REM (NREM) sleep is a group of four stages of deeper and deeper sleep.
As you can see in the chart above, your body cycles back and forth from NREM to REM all night. While every sleep stage is important, for bodybuilders deep sleep is most critical, followed by REM sleep. Here’s how the stages of sleep progress through the night.
- Stage 1 – Light Sleep: This is the period where you are feeling drowsy, but are actually alternating between wakefulness and sleep. During this time you show some slow eye movement and you wake up easily. In healthy males your testosterone levels increase and peak at about the time of first REM, and remain at the same levels until awakening iii .
- Stage 2 – Diminished Awareness: Your awareness of sensory stimuli is reduced as the brain disengages from your external surroundings. In stage 2 the brain produces slower waves, briefly interrupted by rapid waves.
- Stage 3 & 4 – Slow Wave Sleep: These are the final stages of non-REM sleep, also known as Slow Wave or Deep sleep. This is a critical phase for bodybuilders because your body is now focusing its resources on regenerating tissues i.e., building muscle, revitalizing energy stores and bolstering your immune system. This is all possible because during slow wave sleep your body releases the largest amount of growth hormone (GH), of any time during the entire day iv.
During REM sleep you experience periods of rapid eye movement and intense dreaming. As adults we spend roughly 50 percent of our sleep time in stage 2, about 20 percent in REM, and the remaining 30 percent in the other stages. On the other hand, infants spend about half of their sleep time deep in REM sleep. Many researchers believe that infants require longer periods of REM sleep because it helps their developing brains. That’s because learning is thought to occur during REM since it is the more active stage of sleep. For bodybuilders it would seem plausible that REM sleep fosters a stronger mind/muscle connection, allowing you to lift heavier loads, and improving balance and coordination essential for heavy compound exercises.
Max Out GH Release By Promoting Slow Wave Sleep
You now know, Growth hormone (GH) is normally released during your most restful phase of slow wave sleep (SWS). What’s much more important though, is that research has shown that for healthy men 70% of your entire daily GH output occurs during sleep throughout adulthood v. Think about it, nearly three-fourths of your naturally occurring GH release happens while you’re asleep. Keep in mind GH plays a vital role in not only your bodybuilding program, but also promotes overall health. Just a partial list of benefits GH offers include boosting immune function, amino acid uptake, and protein synthesis, while also increasing release of fat from your fat stores.
As we age, the time we spend in slow wave sleep declines, likely due to melatonin and serotonin availability during sleep. We already discussed supplementing with low dose melatonin as a means to prime your internal clock. What we’ll look at now are nutritional co-factors that increase serotonin in the brain, which not only helps you take the edge off before bed, but also boosts slow wave sleep and more restful REM sessions as well. The combination of the amino acids L-Tryptophan and 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) have been shown to increase serotonin production, and in turn melatonin vi.vii An increase in the availability of serotonin as a direct factor for promoting slow wave deep sleep was pioneered by French sleep researcher Michel Jouvet’s from his work in the 1950’s. Jouvet’s wrote the seminal book, The Paradox of Sleep The Story of Dreaming and his research has been cited many times over the yearsviii . The take home message is pretty simple, for a good nights rest reduce the excitatory compounds, i.e., stimulants in your system, and increase the inhibitory/relaxing compounds i.e., L-Tryptophan and 5HTP that increase serotonin.
The Modern Bodybuilders Sleep Enhancement Protocol
Your first goal is to try your best to limit stimulants about 4-hours before bedtime. Next, try and arrange any late night training so that once you’re finished you can eat, and then start your nutrient regimen that will ultimately feed your sleep cycle. Here’s the nutrients and dose ranges:
Melatonin–300mcg up to 1.5mg
5-HTP-12.5 to 25 mg
Conclusion: Don’t Let Your Physique Get Jacked By Losing Sleep
If learning about the benefits of getting great sleep each night doesn’t motivate you then consider this. Running on just 4-hours of sleep per night for only six days has a markedly negative impact on key hormones that regulate feeding, leptin, muscle protein breakdown, cortisol, and fat burning, thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)ix. This means you’ll get double damage. In effect, you’ll inhibit GH release, possibly testosterone release, and the restorative power of sleep in general, and load up on muscle wasting and fat promoting hormones. Try and train and diet out of that!
Copyright: Vince Andrich/AMS 2010
i Rao MN; Blackwell T; Redline S; Stefanick ML; Ancoli-Israel S; Stone KL. Association between sleep architecture and measures of body composition. SLEEP 2009;32(4):483-490.
ii M. E. J. Attenburrow1, P. J. Cowen1 and A. L. Sharpley1 Psychopharmacology Research Unit, University Department of Psychiatry, Littlemore Hospital, OX4 4XN Oxford, UK Psychopharmacology , Volume 126, Number 2 / July, 1996 179-181
iii Lubo****zky R, Herer P, Levi M, Shen-Orr Z, Lavie P. Relationship between rapid eye movement sleep and testosterone secretion in normal men. J Androl. 1999 Nov-Dec;20(6):731-7.
iv Van Cauter E, Copinschi G. Interrelationships between growth hormone and sleep. Growth Horm IGF Res. 2000 Apr;10 Suppl B:S57-62.
v Van Cauter E, Plat L, Copinschi G. Interrelations between sleep and the somatotropic axis. Sleep. 1998 Sep 15;21(6):553-66.
vi Birdsall TC.5-Hydroxytryptophan: a clinically-effective serotonin precursor. Altern Med Rev. 1998 Aug;3(4):271-80
vii John D. Fernstrom 1 and R. J. Wurtman Brain Serotonin Content: Physiological Dependence on Plasma Tryptophan Levels Science 9 July 1971: Vol. 173. no. 3992, pp. 149 – 152
viii Steriade M. Slow-wave sleep: serotonin, neuronal plasticity, and seizures. Arch Ital Biol. 2004 Jul;142(4):359-67.
ix Van Cauter E, PhD; Kristen Knutson, PhD; Rachel Leproult, PhD; Karine Spiegel, PhD. The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Hormones and Metabolism, Essay 2005
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