What Bodybuilders Know About Sleep’s Importance

Bodybuilders structure their lives around three main tenets. The first two are obvious: diet and exercise. But the final one might surprise you – it’s sleep. What can you learn from them?

Poor sleep is associated with obesity, and that’s the antithesis of what these athletes need to be stage ready.

“Sleep is an extremely important part of recovering from the rigorous demands of our training,” says Mike Kneuer, a personal trainer and former pro men’s physique competitor. “When we’re in the gym, we’re beating our bodies up and breaking down muscle tissues. It’s our nutrition and our sleep that repair our muscles to build them bigger and stronger.”

With busy days full of meal prep and intense sessions in the gym, how do these athletes prioritize sleep? Take these tips and apply them to your own life, even if you’re not planning to flex your muscles in public anytime soon.

Make sleep a non-negotiable

International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness pro bikini competitor Michele Messina wakes up early every morning, which translates to an early bedtime. That can be tough when she feels like she can’t go out in the evenings like others do. “Even though it’s almost like putting yourself into a corner as a timeout, I tell myself that this is a priority,” she says. “It’s like making an appointment with myself that I can’t break.”

Create a routine

When Kneuer really needs a good night’s sleep, he cuts off electronics an hour before bedtime and takes an Epsom salt bath. “The hot bath and the magnesium in the Epsom salts helps relax the body, and magnesium has been shown to help sleep,” he says. That’s followed by a cup of chamomile tea.

Stick to a schedule

“Better sleep usually results from going to bed and waking at the same scheduled times,” says G.C. Schop, a former teenage bodybuilder and author of Huge in High School: Fitness for Life. “The extremely disciplined will go to sleep at the same time and allow for a more natural wakeup time, meaning no alarms, bells or whistles to wake.”

Supplement sleep when necessary

It’s best to get your shut-eye at night, but naps can help, too. “I really have to force myself to have four to five complete REM cycles a night,” Messina says. “If I know that I didn’t hit those REM cycles, meaning they were incomplete or I was restless, I take a nap during the day or lay down and keep my body completely still for at least 90 minutes. That gives me the optimal amount of leptin levels to raise my metabolism, reduce inflammation and help me get into that recovery mode.”

Keep your goals in mind

Remember your end goal and how sleep supports that, even if you’re just looking to be a better desk jockey. “I prioritize my sleep based on a quote I heard that says, ‘If you wouldn’t get up early to do something, don’t stay up late to do it,'” says Kneuer. “Meaning, if you wouldn’t set your alarm an hour early to watch that TV show, you shouldn’t stay up later watching it either.”

“It really hit home with me and changed my perspective on staying up late doing things that weren’t as important as getting a good night’s rest.”

 

Bodybuilders aren’t the only athletes who prioritize sleep – read how quality sleep affects Ironman training and how to schedule runs to maximize sleep.