Lack of sleep killing your gains?

We all intuitively know sleep is important for our health, yet we always seem to find a reason to sacrifice a couple hours of rest to check one more box off our to-do list. Sometimes it’s for a noble cause, like starting our day extra early to get a workout in. However, if we are sacrificing a full night’s rest to do something good for our bodies; Aren’t we just working against ourselves?

A 2016 study by Nicholas J Saner and colleagues studied the effects of sleep on muscle growth. Participants that were restricted to a mere 4 hours of sleep for 5 consecutive nights had significantly less muscle fiber synthesis than those who got a full 8 hours. Implying that lack of sleep is detrimental to our body’s ability to maintain muscle mass. Interestingly, when sleep deprived participants also underwent high intensity interval training, the decline in muscle growth was negated!

Does this mean the best way to combat the muscle wasting effects of sleep deprivation is high intensity training?

Only if you don’t value sleep. Even the high intensity exercise participants saw no significant different in muscle tissue synthesis compared to individuals who simply got a full 8 hour’s rest without any added training. Suggesting that exercising in a sleep deprived state is no better than sleeping in.

So, if you’re trying to build muscle and your faced with getting a full night’s rest or hitting the gym, the answer is simple.

Aim for both. It’s the only way to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your work out. Otherwise, you may be putting in blood, sweat and tears to maintain instead of making new gains. Not to mention the countless other benefits of sleep that go well beyond gaining muscle: like memory, productivity, mental health, warding of disease and just about every other facet of life.


Saner NJ, Lee MJ, Pitchford NW, Kuang J, Roach GD, Garnham A, Stokes T, Phillips SM, Bishop DJ, Bartlett JD. The effect of sleep restriction, with or without high-intensity interval exercise, on myofibrillar protein synthesis in healthy young men. J Physiol. 2020 Apr;598(8):1523-1536. doi: 10.1113/JP278828. Epub 2020 Mar 11. PMID: 32078168; PMCID: PMC7217042.