Lack of sleep definitely affects a variety of physiological processes where building muscle is concerned. A recent study by Dr. Eve Van Cauter at the University of Chicago (JAMA, 284:2000) demonstrated that a disturbance in sleep patterns produce marked alterations in our body’s hormone profile.
Lack of sleep increases cortisol levels dramatically and high cortisol levels devour muscle. Not enough Z’s also produces a significant decrease in testosterone and growth hormone output – two vital anabolic hormones. Not enough sleep has also been demonstrated to suppress immune function.
This research demonstrated that sleep appears to be a form of anabolic hormone therapy. Sleep recharges your body’s hormonal functions.
Exactly why we require sleep is still a mystery in science. Some researchers suspected it was required for growth hormone and testosterone secretion, however, we produce more of those hormones when awake. Others suspected it was for “brain rest” but the truth is our brains are shown to be far more active when asleep. (This was my main defense when caught snoozing in class in high school!)
While different people require different amounts of sleep, it is clear that a lack of sleep or a disturbance in regular sleep patterns produces detrimental effects to memory function, coordination and other mental processes as well as anabolic hormone secretion. In fact, one report I’ve read documented that sleep deprivation for only seven days will cause death! But then again, I’ve several friends that regularly take it upon themselves to disprove this theory.
So from an athletes perspective, sleep is very important. More importantly, finding your body’s optimal sleep requirements will go a long way in improving both your mental and physical performance.