Polyphasic Sleep and Exercise

By Abby Wood

Whether you are a bodybuilder, runner, gymnast, powerlifter, or train in functional movements, recovery is an important part of any training regimen. Some will even argue that rest and recovery are just as important as the training itself. That being said, how can polyphasic sleeping fit in with exercise?

The answer: It all depends on your personal goals. Are you looking to gain size? Are you training for endurance sports? Are strength and power your main focus? Depending on what you are looking to gain, your training affects the rest and recovery your body needs. When we exercise we engage our Sympathetic Nervous System. This is often called the “fight or flight” area of the nervous system. We tear muscle fibers and essentially do other types of microdamage to our bodies on a controlled scale. In the rest and recovery phase, the Parasympathetic Nervous System takes over. Our bodies recover and rebuild when the parasympathetic system is in charge. This mostly happens when we sleep and can also be activated during meditation.

So how much sleep do we need to recover? Typically if you are looking to gain size or add muscle mass, the more the better. Professional bodybuilders will sleep for a long period of time during the night and may nap during the day. Sometimes they will wake up during the long sleep to eat protein-rich foods to give their bodies the building blocks it needs to build new muscle mass. Frequent sleeping along with hypertrophy exercise has been shown to boost natural human growth hormones. We see evidence of this in prisoners who live a structured lifestyle that usually involves little else but eat, sleep, and working out. Napping can also cut down on the levels of the stress hormone cortisol which inhibits muscle growth.

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Interestingly enough, studies have shown that endurance athletes need less sleep for their bodies to recover. Since they typically have slimmer physiques than bodybuilders or powerlifters, the systems that they tax recover in different ways. For endurance athletes, napping will actually have the opposite effects that it does for bodybuilders. While it also helps the body recover, napping will make them slimmer. When we are well rested our bodies limit the production of a hormone called Ghrelin which is what makes us feel hungry. So how much sleep do you need? Listen to your body. You spend enough time torturing it during exercise. Don’t skimp on recovery.