Endurance athletes are the WORST when it comes to getting enough recovery.
This is a common and recurring theme among those who have been in the sport a while it seems.
I have been just as guilty as any and my recent experiences in the last
Why do we need sleep?
The overly simple answer is everyone needs a certain number of deep sleep cycles to give the body a chance to repair.
Many people forget that working out weakens and damages the muscle fibers. When you SLEEP is when the body gets to work rebuilding them, making them stronger, so next time you can handle the load easier. The older you are, the more critical this is because you may not rebuild as much per sleep cycle.
Anyone endurance athlete can break down the body with workouts – few have the discipline to fully complete the cycle and allow the repair.
Why don’t we get enough sleep?
For most adults the list is endless – kids, work, too much caffeine, ego, overscheduling, over stimulation at night, eating too late, bad bedroom habits, etc. For the non-athlete, you can sustain a fatigued state for a long time. Wonder why Starbucks is so popular? It allows you to over-ride these signals.
Endurance athletes have another challenge – Because they apply a heavy workload (lots of workouts) they are tired. They assume the tired is due to the workouts and they must “tough it out”. Therefore, they override the bodies natural signals without even thinking about it. Double that with the national epidemic of Starbucks, energy drinks, X hour energy shots, etc.
Naps are not in vogue in America. You all need to vote me for president, because the first thing I will introduce is a mandatory siesta (mid day nap). This is a platform I think many can get behind. Why is it little kids are the only ones allowed to nap? Heck they aren’t tired, let the parents nap and have the kids run things for a couple hours…
Our diets are crap. I could (and may) write and entire blog about that. WHAT we eat can absolutely impact our sleep.
What is the result?
For most people, what happens is you gradually become less and less effective at everything you do. You become short-attention span at work, at home, at everything. Why? Because you just cannot muster the energy to concentrate on one thing so you half-ass many things so you can feel like you are keeping up with everyone else and their perfect-world-pictures on Instagram and Facebook.
You become less rationale. Because you cannot focus, you are more likely to rush to judgement with limited information and even more limited thought. Every wonder why Facebook is filled with people spouting opinions-as-fact and continual outrage about one thing or another? I bet they all just need a nap.
You get sick. A lot. Your immune system is under constant attack and you are weakened.
Your reflexes are reduced. Fatigue in the US is so bad the CDC is working to combat driving accidents – Drowsy Driving.
- An estimated 1 in 25 adult drivers (aged 18 years or older) report having fallen asleep while driving in the previous 30 days.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2013. However, these numbers are underestimated and up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year may be caused by drowsy drivers.
For the athlete, sub-optimal training is another result. You will put in the WORK but only get 80% of the reward. Or 60% or 20% – all depends on how much fatigue you have. Eventually your workout performance will start to drop as well and at that point you are on a train straight to overtraining – without actually DOING too much training.
This is such a trend in Western society that it has been dubbed by some as the 21st Century Syndrome. Another description is Adrenal Fatigue
What is the fix?
QUALITY sleep of sufficient QUANTITY.
QUALITY sleep means you should fall asleep in a reasonable amount of time, stay asleep most if not all of the night, and wake up rested. Here are some tips:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every night whenever possible. Your body can then get into the rhythm and help out. Don’t confuse it!
- Bed rooms are for two things and two things only. One is sleep. The other is not TV, Smartphones, laptops, books, etc. Again, let the body know what is coming.
- Cut out stimulation before bed. Talking, TVs, Smartphones, books, etc. are all mentally stimulating.
- No talking. Seriously, didn’t we cover this just a second ago? We did. If one partner brings up a problem, issue, etc it can send your brain spinning. Do that before getting to the bedroom.
- Meditation. If you haven’t learned to meditate, I really recommend it. It does not have to be new age hippy stuff, it is the process of calming our minds which allows the body to relax. Some people find this comes easy but many people need to learn this skill and like any skill, it must be learned.
- Breathing exercises. Otherwise, try using breathing exercises. Slow deep breathing in and out in an easy, comfortable pattern getting shorter each time until you area breathing normally.
- Routine. Have a routine before bed. Whatever that is, it is yet another signal to your body.
- Dark. Any blue light (i.e. sunlight and some brighter light bulbs) will stimulate you and tell your body to wake up. Do not use bright night lights, and make sure the windows are fully covered. If you do get up – try not to use any lights, don’t look at your smart phone, keep it dark.
- Sound. Some people are highly sensitive to noises. It is only natural. Consider a white noise machine, a fan, or something to block out the unnecessary sounds that accompany modern life.
- Phones. If you have you phone in the bedroom, put it screen side DOWN and set it to automatically go silent during sleeping hours. Most smartphones allow the option to program certain callers to get through or even all callers – without all the other noises the devices puts out.
- Don’t do work stuff close to bed. There is always a chance of a stressful email which will send your mind spinning!
- Don’t eat close to bed. This causes your body to “work” which is contrary to “relax”!
QUANTITY means you get enough sleep for what you are doing. If you are an athlete in training you will need more. If you have a lot of stress, you need more. If you a sedentary person who sits on the couch all day, you need less. More stress = more sleep. 8 is the benchmark I keep reading in literature
- Schedule enough time for sleep. Don’t go to bed at 11pm knowing you have to get up at 5am – that is 6 hours (assuming 100% sleep efficiency, which nobody gets!). 8 hours is the typical length but can easily be anywhere between 7 and 10 hours for adults based on many factors – but the most obvious is the stresses placed upon the body (physical AND mental)
- Take a LONG nap. Long is based on your personal sleep cycle duration which is usually between 70-100 minutes. Everyone has a certain amount of time they need to get a FULL sleep cycle. Mine, for example, is 75 minutes. This is my optimal “long nap” time.
- Take a SPEED NAP. Short naps, 20-40 minutes (no more!) are extremely effective at allowing you to regroup and regain focus, concentration, and get through the day. But warning, if you go too long on a speed nap but do not go long enough for a long nap – you are going to wake up feely sluggish and worse. So you will have to experiment
- Make sleep a priority. To accomplish enough sleep you will have to give up other things. Did you REALLY enjoy that TV show or did you finish it out of habit. Here is a secret – you can stop watching it in the middle! I know right??! Mind blowing. Just step away. You can leave those emails until tomorrow. You can
Most of us don’t get enough sleep. Try to implement a few of these things and see how you feel, I think you will like it! Sleeping is NOT LAZY it is necessary body maintenance. I used to be part of the “I will sleep when I’m dead” crowd – but you know what? There’s no award for that except, well, beind dead. No thanks! I would rather feel better while ALIVE!
Recently I bought a Fitbit so I could record my resting heart rate (a good indicator of fatigue) and my sleep. I think this thing is awesome. I am not a “watch” guy so wearing something isn’t awesome, but the data I have been able to collect is great. Unbiased data. Here is my sleep log from last week. For me, 7 hours is an ideal amount – but as you can see most of the week I failed that because of the QUALITY. Look at Tues and Wed. Almost identical sleep/wake times but a 30 minute difference in how much ACTUAL sleep.
NOTE: Friday I forgot to wear it, so that is a manual entry. I clearly did not sleep well because I was super tired and I ended up napping.
Remember – vote for me!
Comment below on your tips and tricks for how to beat fatigue!