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Getting plenty of sleep is really important for putting on size - something I am very aware of.

Unfortunately, various circumstances lead to me not being able to get to the gym until about 9:30PM at night. I work out for about an hour to an hour and a half depending on the day, and then begin a journey home which takes about 1 hour. I need to wake up the next morning at 6:30AM for work.

Taking in to account up to an additional hour of overflow (time it takes to fall asleep, have a quick shower before I get to bed etc), this leaves me about 5-6 hours for actual sleep. Obviously this is not great company for weight training.

Is there anything I can do to maximise my gains with restricted sleep?

  • Will going easier on myself in my training benefit me in this case because of reduced recovery time?
  • Should I try get as many hours sleep over the weekend as I can?
  • Maybe I should leave legs or back until Friday where I get a massive sleep the following morning (because of the weekend)?
  • Should I restrict myself to a single muscle group a day rather than two?
  • etc
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3  
Buy a bench, a door bar and adjustable dumbbells and train at home at 5.30 AM. This will help you sleep better and many hours more. The benefits of barbell and gym equipment over a simpler home equipment hardly can compensate for the lack of sleep. –  Mephisto Jul 3 '13 at 6:59
    
@Mephisto I don't really have any room for that stuff. Plus I live with my parents who are asleep by the time I get home, so dropping and swapping weights needs to be done very carefully. –  Marty Jul 3 '13 at 7:12
    
Is there a gym you can go to on your lunch break? –  shilov Aug 3 '13 at 12:22
    
How about having a short nap during lunch time? –  stakx Aug 3 '13 at 13:32
    
@XavierCastro Actually it's the opposite, the gym is a couple stations past mine. –  Marty Aug 5 '13 at 23:58

4 Answers 4

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+500

Five to six hours of sleep a night is not optimal for most people. While your attempts are admirable as you rightly recognise other more vital activities have to take priority over working out.

  • Priorise getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night: This is necessary for good health.
  • Getting your diet in order first: Most people will acknowledge that the best exercise regime won't out do a bad diet. Learn about good nutrition now and when you have the time to devote to a full workout you will see fantastic gains.
  • Look at alternate times: if you are at work, university or school, can you workout during lunch?
  • Explore bodyweight options: Its not ideal for building massive amounts of muscle, but a good bodyweight routine with a good diet can get you looking trim and muscular. Push-up, pull-ups or horizontal rows and pistol squats are all quick morning exercises that will give you a good basis to work from later.

Sleep is something you can't work around, you can't just "make it up" on the weekend - sleep debt is a real phenomena.

Despite what people may think, fitness and weightlifting (and sport in general) is a 24 hour a day activity. Right now you can either lose your hour of gym time or 8 hours of quality sleep time. Think about it like this, practice doing it right for 23 hours a day now, then later, when you can fit the extra hour in your life you'll be in a better position than someone who is perpetually tired or someone new to fitness entirely.

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Let me start off by saying that sleep is more important than working out, and here is the why, the main thing we try to accomplish while sleeping is "recovery" and the most important thing you need after working out is "recovery" and obviously you can see that if the main thing you need is recovery but you are not getting recovery time the workouts wont do you any good since you wont be able to recover.

But don't give I will try to give my best advice possible and I will go through question by question.

  1. Is there anything I can do to maximize my gains with restricted sleep? Yes, but that's not only in the case of restricted sleep but as well when you get a full nights sleep go to the following link and see whether there is anything you modify in you sleep environment that will maximize your sleeping gains.

  2. Will going easier on myself in my training benefit me in this case because of reduced recovery time? Yes, less workouts means less recovery needed, although I should point out that even if you do not workout at all you should still be getting 7-8 hours of sleep.

  3. Should I try get as many hours sleep over the weekend as I can? My advise is don't force your self to sleep, go to sleep and don't set an alarm and allow your body to tell you when it had enough sleep "your body know whats best"

  4. and 5. Maybe I should leave legs or back until Friday where I get a massive sleep the following morning (because of the weekend)? Should I restrict myself to a single muscle group a day rather than two? On these 2 questions I will try to advise you as best as possible, I gather from these question that right now your following some sort of strength program, since right now you do not have enough sleep and in strength programs specifically sleep is really important as that's the time that your body will be rebuilding the muscle cells, my advise is limit your workouts to 45 min and this alone will give you an extra 30 to 45 min of sleep at night, I agree as well with @Xavier Casto that you might want to look at doing your workouts in the morning since you will be able to tell when you wake up if you are up to it or you need more sleep, you might also want to look at alternatives to strength programs (read bodybuilding) something like a an aerobic strength program where you would have more reps and less weight as this will require less building time of muscle, you might look at somthing like joining a CrossFit training class which is High intensity but usually limited to 30 - 45min workouts, working out a large muscle group for (Legs - Chest - Shoulders) as you pointed out is advisable, you can also try to linit your workouts to 4 times a week and try to get 2 of those on weekends like @DMoore wrote.

and at last I want to point out that in most cases your body tells you what it needs so if you feel tired you know you need more sleep and if you try to ignore it you wont gain much from working out, so try to find the proper balance that works for you.

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There are a few articles (below) that correlate decreased sleep to higher appetite, weight gain and risk of diabetes. The latter two might have more to do with the correlated increased desire for high-carb foods, rather than the actual loss of sleep.

So I would say that the downsides of sleep loss are probably going to be offset by the increased appetite. Unlike a powerlifter or weightlifter, a bodybuilder doesn't need to be as mentally focused in the gym so the mental fatigue won't be a factor. And with a decent caloric surplus you should not be worried about muscle fatigue, as you are likely to be an amateur body builder.

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It would help if you could quote important parts of those articles, this makes your answer more substantial and helps against link rot. –  Baarn Aug 2 '13 at 20:54

I am sure that you are aware that your testosterone levels can go down due to sleep deprivation. Also most bodies naturally try to store fat. So gaining weight should be easy, but it might not be lean weight.

I would suggest the following:

  1. Get your lifting done in 30-35 mins or less each day. Your body is already tired. No use making it over-fatigued. Anything you are doing after this is not helping you gain muscle.
  2. Each day start with a core movement - for a good amount of weight. At the same time try to be done with the core movement in 10-15 mins. Being fatigued you may only have 10-20 mins of good lifting time. Use that for squats/deadlifts, pullups, bench, curls/skullcrushers.
  3. After doing the core movement I would then go to the auxiliary lifts with speed not weight in mind. Get your body shocked during the core lift(s). Afterward you should be lifting almost non-stop. You can try supersetting 2-3 lifts in rotation. Key being form and intensity - not weight. The reasoning behind this is that you need to fight your body's natural attempt to put on fat.
  4. Try working out in the morning. Even one day a week. You can probably more efficiently get to sleep at night if you workout in the morning.
  5. 4-day split (legs, back, arms, chest). I would also do a few mins of core/ab work daily - fight the fat gain.
  6. Sleep as much as possible on weekends. I worked night shift at one time and averaged 5-6 hours a day of sleep during the week. Weekends I would grab 12 each day and I was fine. If I missed the 24 hours of weekend sleep I felt it within a week or two. Your body can recover with extra sleep.
  7. Drink more water. 200 ounces of fluids a day. You are much more prone to pulling a muscle when fatigued or distracted. Don't let dehydration factor into that.
  8. See if you can switch one or two of your workouts to the weekend. If you only had 2 days of low sleep that is optimal. Even switching 1 would be a big help.
  9. Light cardio. You are sleeping less so more prone to lactic acid build up. Start a light cardio routine 15-20 mins daily. You are not training for a marathon here!

(So total workout time is 45-55 mins x 4 days a week).

I am not sure on recommending squats (given that you feel they are most important - I do too) to Fridays. You would have optimal time to sleep after but you would also be at your most sleep deprived on Friday night. Personally I would do them on the weekend or Monday. I want to be awake as possible when I have a lot of weight on my back.

I guess to sum this up. Do things to sleep more. When you are at the gym quickly do heavy weights. Use your gym time more efficiently. When you are fatigued at the gym (after doing a core lift) do not lift heavy. Incorporate some body-building theories into your routine given that your body will be more apt to put on fat.

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In regards to "Suggestion 6" I disagree with the solution of sleeping more during the weekend, it is indeed true that science has shown that one can repay their sleeping debt by sleeping more on other nights, in Marty's case it wont do much since after working out and specifically in a strength program he will need the sleep that night in order to recover properly 5 days later is too much too late unfortunately, the ability to pay off a sleep debt is only in regards to ones mental state or for people who are tired all the time. –  Bernard Goldberger Aug 6 '13 at 21:03
    
@BernardGoldberger I didn't mean the sleep debt to be fitness related. Maybe I should have stated that. I agree with everything you said. I listed that because from years of sleep debt on weekdays I found that I did in fact get sick more when I did not recoup. Almost like my body had a bucket and if it hit below a certain level... I got sick. So the advise was mainly to keep poster from getting sick which I think being sick affects workouts - indirectly. –  DMoore Aug 6 '13 at 21:06

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