Sleep: The Other Discipline. (And how to get more!)
Sleep. We all know how important it is, but 99% of us don’t get enough of it... ESPECIALLY endurance athletes. The National Sleep Foundation says the average adult should get an average of seven hours of sleep, but that athletes should actually get closer to nine hours in order to support the body’s need to repair itself due to the tolls of training.
How many hours are you getting? Five - maybe six - hours? Do you really put much thought behind it, other than the fact that you’re smoked from not having a good night? I would encourage every single endurance athlete to look at sleep as part of your daily training, just like your daily workout(s) are. You want to set yourself up for the best training possible, right?
Though nine hours might be a bit of a stretch for most people, what’s important is that you’re getting enough for your own, unique needs in order to support your training and recover well, ready to crush tomorrow’s swim, bike, run, or whatever workout.
Many of us have difficulty with getting to sleep and staying asleep. The first bit of advice regarding “sleep hygiene”, as the professionals like to call it, is usually to eat healthy, exercise, turn off your electronics at least an hour before bed, and avoid caffeine or other stimulants after about 2pm. As high-performance athletes, you’re already doing all of those (right??). ;) Here are some more ideas to help you set yourself up to be successful in this critical aspect of your training:
Be consistent. Eat dinner at the same time, as much as possible, every night and have a bedtime that you follow fairly strictly.
Write. If you struggle with your mind going 100mph before bed, or when you wake up in the middle of the night, try free writing in a notebook you keep near your bed. Anything that comes to mind, goes on the paper. You never even have to look at it again.
Read (something boring!). You don’t want to read something your brain will get super engaged in.
Your bed should only be used for two things. Don’t climb into bed until you’re actually tired and ready to go to sleep. If you’re laying awake in the middle of the night, get out of bed, sit in a chair and read or journal until you’re tired again, then go back to bed. (You know what the second thing is! It’s definitely NOT scrolling Facebook or watching FamilyGuy!)
Set a routine. Have a bedtime routine that you follow every night.
Here’s an example of my bedtime routine, which includes many of the ideas above:
One hour before bedtime (usually about 9pm), I turn off all my electronics, brush my teeth, and do a brief yoga session. Sit in the armchair in my bedroom and free write. If I start to get really sleepy doing that, I will move to my comfy bed, turn on my sound machine, curl up and either head to dream-land or start reading the enthralling 2010 copy of “The World is Flat” that I’ve been on chapter one of for the better part of a decade.
Hopefully, the ideas above will help you crush your sleep “workouts” and get the rest and recovery your body needs in order to support the rest of your workouts.