Updated: Apr 21, 2022
As we all grow through the stay at home orders, etc., numerous articles are being proffered that focus on where we are in this--what has come to be called, "new normal." In fact, I have written several articles that have that as the primary background.
In this article, I would like to not focus on where we are now, but rather where we can be in the future. To do that, I want to offer us all a different challenge to take on and conquer during this season of "stay at home:" sleep!
The vast majority of us (athletes or not) do not get enough sleep. We talk a great deal about it, but we rarely DO anything about it. Now is the time to start!
I understand all the anxieties and worries that many of us currently face. They may be very disruptive to already less-than-ideal sleep patterns. And therein lies the most significant opportunity for us to rewire our sleep patterns.
Nothing will benefit athletes more during this season of postponed and canceled races than establishing healthy sleep patterns.
I recently read a compelling book by Dr. Matthew Walker called Why We Sleep. In it, Dr. Walker presents persuasive evidence for the benefits and, more importantly, the necessity of sleep. I read his book in light of my own personal struggles with getting enough sleep. I realized how much more critical quality sleep is for endurance athletes than I had previously thought.
Yes, I already knew sleep was essential, but I didn't grasp the full weight of the necessity of sleep for your body to function and heal properly.
Dr. Walker points out that, "Two-thirds of adults throughout all developed nations fail to obtain the recommended eight hours of nightly sleep." (p.6) In other words, we already face a pandemic of sleeplessness with all the connected health consequences. Walker continues, "Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours per night demolishes your immune system, doubling your risk of cancer." (p.7)
What better way to improve our health and immune system as well as our overall athletic ability than to use this time to build better sleep practices and discipline?
We can do this if we first accept just how critical sleep is to our overall health. Then we need to align our disciplined natures to embrace sleep as the 5th--and perhaps most important--discipline for triathletes.
If you train with less-than-optimal sleep, much of your training is not making commensurate forward fitness progress to the effort you are expending. And, since "there does not seem to be one major organ in the body or process in the brain, that isn't optimally enhanced when we sleep (and detrimentally impaired when we don't get enough)" (p.8), you are risking the health of your immune system and impairing your body's ability to absorb training, which is what lets you push harder to go further and faster.
So, let's embrace sleep and focus on getting better at sleeping so that when the season resumes, we are ready and truly rested.