Sleep is the most underrated factor when it comes to your physical and mental health. It is just as important as diet and exercise but is so often overlooked. Many an amateur bodybuilder has had every aspect of their training finely tuned, but made the error of not getting enough sleep each night. But, do bodybuilders need more sleep than regular people?
Many athletes require more sleep than sedentary people. This is due to the increased demands that intense training creates. Better quality sleep can help to increase testosterone levels, enhance muscle protein synthesis, and reduce fatigue. Creating an effective sleep routine is a no-brainer.
This article will be discussing the importance of sleep, both generally and specifically to bodybuilders. We will also look at whether too much sleep can negatively affect muscle growth. Before walking you through an effective sleep routine for you to implement.
According to the Sleep Foundation, the average person (non-athletes) requires between seven and nine hours of sleep each night , with older people requiring slightly less than people under 30.
The conventional wisdom is that athletes (including bodybuilders) require more sleep than non-athletes, but a 2021 study in the International Journal of Sports Physiology & Performance found that around 80% of athletes reported needing 7-9 hours of sleep .
The study goes on to say that individual requirements varied significantly, with some athletes requiring as little as 5 hours 30 minutes, and others sleeping for 11 hours each night. The study also points out that many athletes are likely to be sleeping fewer hours than is optimal.
There is a great deal of research being put into analysing the importance of athletes sleeping more, and many sports have decided to invest heavily in improving the sleeping quality of their athletes. Many footballers are hiring sleep experts to improve their sleep quality and duration.
In an interview with The Guardian, sleep expert Anna West states:
“We know that players who sleep below eight hours per night over a 24-month period will have a 1.7 times greater risk of developing an injury.”
Anna West, 25th Jan 2020 
This claim appears to be supported by several studies, a 2021 study by Huang & Ihm found that sleeping less than seven hours for 14 days straight led to an increased risk (1.7x) of injury , as did a 2021 study in the British Medical Journal .
But, this opinion is not universal. A systematic review of the literature by Dobrosielski et al concluded that there was insufficient evidence that a lack of sleep increased injury risk, and that more studies needed to be undertaken before coming to a conclusion either way .
Cheri Mah is well-known in the sports science world for her work on sleep extension. In 2011, Mah et al produced a study into the effects of extended sleep on sporting performance in college basketball players .
The study asked eleven basketball players to sleep for 10 hours each night. This was after 2-4 weeks of normal sleep to establish baseline scores. It should be noted that the basketball players were asked to sleep for a minimum of 10 hours, they were free to sleep for longer if they wanted.
Their performances were then measured for:
All of these measurements improved after extended sleep. Players felt more energetic on the court and played better. Their mood improved, and their reaction time.
Now, there are a couple of issues with this study. For starters, the number of participants (11) was very small, and all participants were college-aged. It is well established that young people need more sleep than older people. So, it would be interesting to discover whether the benefits of sleep extension apply universally. I personally suspect that it would.
An article in Business Insider states that NBA basketball stars are particularly interested in sleeping, possibly due to reading the above study. LeBron James has been quoted as saying that he slept 12 hours per day, while Steph Curry has 8 hours each night plus 2 x 2.5-hour naps.
Of course, there are few people outside of college who can afford to spend 10 hours of their day sleeping. Anyone with a job and a young family who manages 10 hours of sleep is some form of magician!
Above, I have walked you through the scientific answers to the question. As you can see, there is a general consensus that sleeping for longer may help to improve sporting performance, but that many athletes get away with sleeping regular hours.
However, the fact that some of the most successful athletes of all time (LeBron and Curry) sleep for much longer and have noticed improvements from that, leads me to suspect that there is a connection between sleep extension and performance.
Most of the studies into the effects of sleep on performance focus more on cognitive benefits. Players have faster reaction times, are more accurate, and have more energy. But this does not necessarily translate to muscle growth.
The only part of the Mah study that may be relevant is sprint times. Sprinting is all about power generation, as is muscular strength. So there may well be a connection. It makes sense on paper that more sleep would lead to muscle growth.
Sleep has been shown to increase testosterone levels in men. Studies have shown that just one week of bad sleep can be enough to lower testosterone levels in healthy men . Our testosterone levels rise as we sleep, and remain high throughout the night .
This is important, as it allows the body to repair and build new muscle fibres, allowing your muscles to grow.
Bottom Line: For most bodybuilders, 7-9 hours of sleep should be ideal. Though, extending your sleep (where possible) may have performance-related benefits. Pro bodybuilders may be able to get away with less sleep thanks to the performance-enhancing drugs they take. But, there would be no real advantage to sleeping fewer hours.
Naps can help to boost performance and enhance cognition (focus). So, they could allow you to have a more effective workout. They should not be viewed as a substitution for proper sleep, and you can build muscle perfectly well without them. But, if you are feeling tired and have low motivation, a solid nap could help to improve your workout.
No, according to science, sleep extension is highly effective for improving performance and muscle building. Sleeping too much has been associated with an increased risk of certain metabolic diseases , but this is not going to be an issue for athletes or bodybuilders.
No. A single night of bad sleep may affect your workout the next day, and it may even affect your workout the day afterwards, but it will have no long-term effects on your ability to build muscle. Several nights of bad sleep could cause issues though.
Yes, provided all other aspects of your life are fine. But sleeping six hours is not optimal for muscle growth. You can build muscle with six hours, but you would most likely see better results with 7 hours or 8.
One thing that many people do when considering questions about bodybuilding is to look at what the professionals are doing. There is logic to this, but comparing yourself to the greatest bodybuilders of all time isn’t always productive.
Wearing the same running shoes as peak Usain Bolt won’t help you run a world record time, and sleeping 5 hours per night because Ronnie Coleman slept 5 hours doesn’t mean you will get similar results!
Still, it is interesting to see what several Mr O winners have said about their sleep habits during competition time. I’ve sourced these estimates from interviews, but they should not be taken as gospel. What a bodybuilder says in one interview may not be true throughout their career.
Phil also naps
Recommends 8 hours
As you can see, there is no specific sleep schedule that all bodybuilders adhere to. Some bodybuilders such as Ronnie Coleman got by with very little sleep, while others such as Frank Zane, Lee Haney, and Dorian Yates slept normal hours.
Flex Wheeler is a bit of an outlier, sleeping 12-16 hours (reportedly) each day. He has said this in a couple of interviews, and I can’t think why he would lie about this, so I’m going to take him at his word. But 16 hours seems excessive.
It appears that bodybuilders are similar to regular athletes in that there are a lot of individual differences. Could bodybuilders benefit from sleep extension? It’s hard to say. Flex Wheeler has been described as the greatest bodybuilder by both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman, and he clearly benefited from his 12-16 hours of sleep.
On the other hand, Ronnie Coleman is the joint-highest winner of Mr Olympia titles and only slept 5 hours per night while competing. The use of performance-enhancing drugs clouds this issue, as they can help with drops in testosterone, low energy, and other sleep-related issues.
Lying in a bed for 10 hours means nothing if your sleep quality is poor. Good sleep hygiene can help you become more efficient with your sleep. Reducing sleep latency (how long it takes you to drift off) gives you more hours of top-quality sleep, and less tossing and turning. Here are five recommendations for better sleep:
As children, we all had bedtimes, and however much we hated them, they worked very well. How often do you see children tired and grumpy during the day? But as soon as we are given the power to set our own bedtimes problems occur. Many of us have no real bedtime, just a rough idea of when we should fall asleep.
But, not having a bedtime is screwing up our sleep. Our bodies love routine, and they thrive in these conditions. Studies have shown that going to bed at the same time can reduce sleep latency, helping you to drift off much quicker. Sleep quality will also improve.
This is such a lame recommendation I’d rather not use it, but there is a lot of evidence that avoiding phone use before bed can improve sleep quality, reduce sleep latency, and allow you to enjoy a much better night’s sleep .
However, there is an asterisk to this. Provided that the activity on your phone does not cause excitement or arousal, you may still be able to fall asleep. For example, listening to a podcast on your phone may be fine. Whereas, watching a thought-provoking documentary that leaves your mind reeling is not going to be that useful.
Caffeine can stay in your system for many hours, so try to avoid it completely within 6-8 hours of your bedtime. If you go to bed at 10 pm, then don’t drink coffee after 3 pm. This can help you to fall asleep faster when you go to bed. If you train in the evenings and like a pre-workout, then try a non-stim pre-workout supplement.
Fresh sheets, a tidy room, a good room temperature, and as little electronic light as possible, can all contribute to the quality of your sleep. I’m not telling you to tidy your whole house, live like a pig for all I care. But tidy your bedroom! Change your sheets every 1-2 weeks, and invest in good quality bedding.
One of the biggest contributors to bad sleep is stress. This can come from work and/or family, or it can be caused by anxiety or depression. Obviously, depression and anxiety are topics that you should take up with your doctor. But there are many effective sleep supplements out there that work by reducing stress and anxiety and providing a calming effect.
Melatonin has been found to be highly effective at treating insomnia , and it can also improve sleep quality . You also have valerian root, which can reduce sleep latency, and improve sleep quality .
Ashwagandha is another highly effective supplement, not only can it reduce cortisol, and help to lower stress, but it also appears to be effective at boosting testosterone in men with low levels .
Natural bodybuilders certainly need more sleep, but whether Pro bodybuilders require more sleep is debatable. Based on data from studies on pro athletes, it seems that different people require different amounts of sleep to be successful. But that there is an increasing desire for pro athletes in sports such as basketball and football to extend their sleep.
Improving sleep quality is crucial. Ronnie Coleman may have only slept 5 hours, be he claims that his sleep quality was so high that it was comparable to eight hours for a regular person (I am paraphrasing).
Sleeping properly should be seen as just as important as eating the right foods, and following the best training program. It is the one aspect of bodybuilding that rewards you for doing nothing (lying in bed).
Matt Smith is the owner of Beer N Biceps. He has a degree in Sports Science, 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry, and has written for hundreds of fitness websites. He is a lover of good quality beer and believes that drinking in moderation can form part of a healthy lifestyle.