Sleep is essential for the cellular, organic and systemic function of healthy bodies and without it health is compromised, feeding behavior changes, glucose regulation and blood pressure are altered as are some hormonal axes. Specifically, as it pertains to getting weaker, sleep debt decreased the activity of protein synthesis pathways and increases the activity of cellular pathways that degrade muscle mass and hinders muscle recovery after vigorous exercise and injury. In short, sleep debt can lead to muscle atrophy and loss of lean muscle mass.

In both men and women, sleep disturbances can affect testosterone levels and thus development of lean muscle mass and function. The catabolic (degrading micro-environment) environment created by hormonal alterations due to deep sleep (stage 3 non-REM) debt decreases muscle synthesis and prevents the muscle relaxation needed for pain reduction by reducing the secretion of growth hormone.

Of the sleep stages, non-REM sleep, or deep sleep is the most important for allowing release of growth hormone. In this phase, the pituitary gland in your brain will release growth hormone which acts to stimulate muscle growth and repair. Ultimately, chronic sleep debt can lead to loss of lean muscle mass and reduced exercise capacity through this hormone pathway.

Studies show that less than 6 hours of quality sleep is the critical tipping point when it comes to muscle strength with people sleeping less than 6 hours having statistically less strength than those sleeping 7-8 hours. No advantage was found with sleep time greater than 8 hours, however.

Consistency in quality sleep is also critical in building and maintaining muscle strength as a single night of total sleep deprivation (or pulling an “all nightery”) can induce resistance to muscle synthesis and promote muscle breakdown. Chronic sleep deprivation can ultimately change total body composition and metabolic function via the loss of the critical stabilizing effect of lean muscle mass.

Finally, quality sleep in active people and athletes of all shapes and sizes can not only increase lean muscle mass and repair but has also been found to increase athletic agility, accuracy and speed leading to increased overall performance from the backyard to the ballfield to the boardroom.

Vonda Wright, MD, MS

Dr Wright is a double boarded Orthopaedic Sports Surgeon, author, speaker and team doctor who harnesses the power of sleep, smart nutrition and mobility to change the way we age in this country. An internationally recognized authority of aging and women’s health she founded the /Ajles.Life/ movement and Precision Longevity Experience to equip people to live MORE every moment and face a future where the best is yet to come. Read more from Dr Wright at or IG- @DrVondaWright