Is 8 Hours Of Sleep Just A Myth?By
Tom Venuto - author of
Burn The Fat, Feed The
Sleep is very important, but sleep is also a very
misunderstood subject. Three years ago in my newsletter I wrote something about
sleep that stirred up some controversy and really disgruntled a lot of
In issue #6 of BFS newsletter, August, 2001 in an
interview with Lori Braun from female muscle.Com, I wrote:
"Sleep is for wimps! A friend of mine likes to
say, Life is for living; there's plenty of time for sleeping when you're
dead! I don't sleep that much. There's too much to do, see, read and
enjoy and just not enough hours in the day to be sleeping them all away.
Usually I sleep 5-6 hours a night. I wish I could get by on 2 or 3; I would get
a lot more done that way.
Im being a little facetious, but seriously,
though, I think the amount of sleep you need is largely an individual issue, a
matter of certain lifestyle factors and is also tied into your belief systems.
I believe all the emphasis on needing 8-10 hours a sleep a day to recover and
grow muscle is a bunch of crap. I've achieved the absolute best condition of my
life sleeping only 5 1/2 to 6 hours before contests.
Take a look at high achievers in any field:
sports, business, whatever, and you'll see a lot of people who don't buy into
the 8 hours theory. I remember reading Skip Lacour's daily training journal
from 1999 and he said he slept less than I do - maybe 4-5 hours a night (Skip
is arguably the best natural bodybuilder in the world). He was up at 4 or 5 am
doing cardio - What a guy! And he won the overall Team Universe at around 225
lbs. Doesnt seem to have hurt his gains!
We've been brainwashed into believing it and if
you believe in something strongly enough, it will become your reality - any
good psychologist will tell you that. The truth is, athletes, entrepreneurs,
and people in other highly creative fields are filled with so much "juice" and
passion for life and for what they do, that they can't wait to get up in the
morning and go do it!
Quote all the scientific studies and physiology
you want, but there are a lot of psychological "X" factors involved. Some
people oversleep simply because theyre bored, they hate their jobs or
theyre depressed and dont want to wake up to face what theyre
Phew! You should have seen the emails that stirred
"Tom, have a question for you. In your last
newsletter you stated that sleep wasn't important but it seems that every
article I have ever read in a muscle magazine says you need sleep for your
muscles to repair themselves (in other words, to get bigger). True?"
(Actually most of the emails werent this
nice most of them were people yelling at me because I was
"irresponsibly" giving "bad advice" and it was my duty as a
certified fitness professional to recant)
My reply was that I didnt say sleep
wasnt important - getting enough sleep is critically important - I said
that how much sleep (a) was an individual matter, (b) was tied in to lifestyle
factors (more on that in a minute) and (c) was heavily tied into psychological
factors and belief systems. In other words, if you believe you need 8 hours of
sleep, you probably do.
I would even go a step further and say this myth
is hard-wired into some people at a level even beyond beliefs, it has actually
become a part of their self-image and identity: "I AM just the type of
person who has to sleep AT LEAST 8 hours or I AM a ZOMBIE the next day!"
Nice self-hypnotic suggestion! Have you noticed an increase in the living dead
Well, Ive stumbled upon some very
interesting facts about how much sleep you really need that you might want to
know about. I noticed a long time ago that I seemed to require less sleep
before bodybuilding competitions. Then I started doing some research because I
was concerned about whether I was sleeping enough for my health and my success
as a bodybuilder. My initial findings seemed to confirm the 8 hours theory and
I thought maybe I should sleep more.
I found studies showing that inadequate sleep:
Decreases testosterone (1998, Archives of
Andrology: Disturbing the light darkness pattern reduces circulating
testosterone in healthy men)
Impairs insulin function (1996, American
Journal of physiology: Relationships between sleep quality and glucose
regulation in normal humans),
Increases cortisol (1997, Sleep: Sleep
deprivation results in elevation of cortisol levels)
Decreases Growth hormone (1995, Journal of
clinical endocrinological metabolism: Nocturnal wakefulness inhibits growth
Weve also learned from research that
disruptions in your circadian rhythms as a result of sleep disturbances can
promote disease and degeneration - literally making you old before your
time. (1998, Hormonal Research: Alterations of circadian rhythms and sleep in
aging: Endocrine consequences)
And those are just a few selected studies.
YIKES! Based on the research, it looks like
shortage of sleep is a very, very bad thing and thats why most health
professionals continue to recommend between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per
So what the heck am I talking about when I say
some people may not need as much sleep as they think they need, and why the
heck do I only sleep 6 hours per night if Im so concerned with health and
building muscle? And how does a champion bodybuilder like Skip Lacour get away
with 4-5 hours of sleep per night? Why arent we terrified of increased
cortisol and other problems, if not now, then down the road?
As a matter of fact, I was and still am concerned
with my health and the results from my training. However, the more I kept
looking into it, the more I found more to the story than just the results of
these studies. For one thing, there are some simple and easy ways you can
improve the QUALITY of your sleep, which can result in a slight decrease in
your required QUANTITY of sleep while giving you the same benefits. Anyone who
knows anything about sleep will tell you that 6 hours of undisturbed, quality
sleep is better than 8 hours of low quality sleep.
I first stumbled onto this completely by accident:
One of the things I noticed is that prior to competitions, my life became MUCH
more scheduled, structured and regimented than any other time of the year. I
ALWAYS went to bed at the same time and woke up at the same time very early in
the morning. After a while I didnt even need an alarm. I woke up
automatically feeling very alert. I went to bed at the same time every night,
even on weekends and slept like a rock. There was no partying and no late
nights. Not a drop of alcohol touched my lips. I only drank coffee in the
morning before my early cardio session. I stopped ephedra and all other
stimulants. I often took a very short nap right after training (especially leg
day). I also was NOT consuming any carbohydrates late at night.
During my contest training, the intensity of my
workouts increased dramatically and my volume of cardio increased
substantially. Even though I was probably on the verge of overtraining the
entire time, I noticed that I needed less sleep and I felt more energy than
usual. I maintained my strength and lean body mass, and my body fat decreased
Earlier this year, I found out about a sleep
science researcher (Kacper Postawski) who was studying insomnia to try to find
a cure for this very common and life-disrupting problem. During the course of
his research, he made some intriguing discoveries about why some people sleep
8, 10, 12 hours a day and still feel tired and why oversleeping like this is
actually bad for you.
The reason Kacpers information grabbed my
attention was because he was studying the problem on two levels: The
physiological level and also the psychological level, using Neuro Liguistic
programming (NLP) as one of his tools. I knew he was onto something because one
thing I know for certain is that lasting change of any kind especially
health and fitness changes must be approached from both the physical and
In Kacpers articles, reports and book
(Powerful Sleep), he mentioned some of the downsides of sleep deprivation I had
already heard about from my own research. But he also showed another,
little-known side to the story. He pointed out that controlling sleep quality,
sleep cycles, light-dark cycles, circadian rhythms and lifestyle factors
(exercise, stress, light exposure, drugs, alcohol, caffeine, etc.), are
possibly more important than the quantity of sleep itself. I was amazed at how
Kacpers findings matched my pre-competition experience.
There was even more: He revealed info on
psychological "triggers" and NLP tricks to fall asleep instantly, sleep soundly
and wake up energized - automatically. Its too much info to cover in this
column, but Kacper has promised to become one of the contributing writers for
Fitness Renaissance, so watch for some of his articles in upcoming issues.
Anyway, the bottom line is that all of this
information reinforced what I had suspected all along - that the 8 hours of
sleep idea wasnt such a hard and fast rule after all and that I could, by
using a few almost embarrassingly simple techniques, not only "get by" on less
sleep, but actually optimize my health and improve my muscle
building and fat burning efforts.
But I think the biggest benefit for me is that
Ive simply gained more time - because time is life! Almost every
person in the industrialized world today complains that they dont have enough
time. Some people even say they dont have time to exercise. If thats true, then
you owe it to yourself to explore ways to give yourself more time.
Strangely enough, one of the things I keep hearing
over and over again is that people who exercise regularly dont need as
much sleep. Some of my busiest clients, including Wall Street executives, gave
up one hour of sleep and used that time to exercise early in the
morning. After a brief adjustment period where some willpower was required,
they found that they actually felt better on less sleep once the early morning
exercise had become a part of their lifestyle. According to Kacper, "The
biggest antidote to feeling tired is exercise and movement, NOT more
Im NOT saying sleep is not
important for muscle growth and overall health it is
research proves it. The question is how much? Im not saying you
personally can get by on 4 or 5 hours. Maybe you do need 7 hours of sleep.
Maybe you need 8. I am only suggesting that you should optimize your lifestyle
and sleeping patterns for sleep quality first and then see for yourself
the impact it has on your energy and your need for sleep quantity. Doing
this, people often find that they can reduce their sleep time from 9 or 10
hours down to 7 or 8, or even from 7 or 8 hours down to 5 or 6, while at the
same time increasing energy, health and free time.
If you pick up an extra hour or two a day, grab
your calculator, punch in the numbers and multiply that out over 10 or 20 years
and see how much extra time youll have in your life to spend doing the
things you love to do most.
I highly recommend Kacpers book, by the way.
If you are interested, you can go look at his website now and download the
first two chapters for free:
For more great articles like this one, go to
Global Health & Fitness where
Tom Venuto is the Fat Loss Expert
| Author Tom Venuto
Tom Venuto is a bodybuilder, gym owner, freelance writer, success
coach and author of "Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle" (BFFM): Fat Burning Secrets
of the World's Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom has written over 150
articles and has been featured in IRONMAN magazine, Natural Bodybuilding,
Muscular Development, Muscle-Zine, Exercise for Men and Mens Exercise.
Tom's inspiring and informative articles on bodybuilding, weight loss and
motivation are featured regularly on dozens of websites worldwide. For
information on Tom's "Burn The Fat" e-book,