Good sleep is essential for your body and mind. And while you can't go food shopping or tackle that big project while you sleep, there is a way to do something else: build muscle mass. Researchers at Maastricht University Medical Center have found that taking protein supplements just before bed can increase muscle mass if you're active in a regular resistance-training type regimen.

Body-building experts have known for years that proper sleep is closely tied to proper muscle growth. This is because sleep is a time of rest and rejuvenation for all parts of your body, and your muscles are no exception.

After even a single bout of exercise, your muscles experience a certain level of trauma. This trauma triggers a series of reactions in your body that lead to something referred to as protein synthesis, when muscles are repaired and regrown. This can occur two hours after exercise and can last for up to 24 hours. That's why getting a good night's sleep is crucial to this process, since that's when your body does its best "rejuvenating." Actual muscle growth occurs when the rate of protein synthesis outweighs the rate of muscle protein breakdown. If it's the other way around, we will lose muscle while we sleep.

This recent study adds to the body of work that validates the claim that dietary protein consumption before sleep can increase protein synthesis and posits that it can even promote muscle growth. Unfortunately for those of us who don't exercise, the study only focused on young men who participate in a regular resistance-training exercise regimen.

Dietary supplementation isn't just important before you sleep when you're trying to build muscle mass. You've got to eat plenty and eat often to make sure that your body has enough nutrition to accomplish protein synthesis. This might mean taking protein supplements or just eating a lot of red meat. Either way, your body needs fuel, especially when you are constantly stressing it and expecting it to recover.

The quality of the sleep you get is important, too. If you are constantly waking during the night or taking too long to drift off, it will adversely affect your body's ability to rebuild muscle while you sleep, even if you are taking a protein supplement before bed. Some things you can try to help you sleep better:

  1. Make the room you're in a bit cooler — even moving the thermostat one degree down can make a huge difference.
  2. If you exercise at night, try moving your routine earlier in the day, since exercising too close to bedtime can prevent you from falling asleep quickly.
  3. Make your bedroom as dark as possible. Then, when it’s morning, wake up early and expose yourself to natural light. This will help reset your sleep/wake cycle if you’re off, especially if you have jet lag or were just up late working on a big deadline.

Remember, we spend one-third of our lives in bed. The quality, not just the quantity, of that time is essential to so many parts of our life, just one of which is muscle growth and repair.