Ironman Training is time consuming, this much we know. It can take up anywhere from 7 to 20 hours per week. And when life gets in the way, what’s the first thing we sacrifice? Sleep.
It’s the easiest thing to cut, but it’s always the worst option. Need to get a three hour ride in before a Saturday with the family? You’ll just wake up a few hours earlier and get it done. The only problem is most people don’t settle into bed any earlier. The 2-3 hours less of sleep can have a negative effect on your recovery, training, weight, stress, mind... shall I continue?
Sure, one Saturday morning here or there won’t be very noticeable. However, do that often enough and you’ll start to feel it. Let that spill over into your weekday routine and you’re likely setting yourself up for disaster.
With Daylight Saving Time ending this past weekend, the extra hour of sleep was lauded by most. But the euphoria also suggests sleep isn’t a priority for many of us. Like I mentioned above, it’s the first thing to be compromised when we need an extra hour or two.
With a child to raise and clients to train, my sleep lately, has been OK at best. But it’s still a far cry from the 8-9 hours of quality sleep I had been getting last year. It’s noticeable, too. I’m not as energized in the afternoons as I had been, my abs aren’t as tight as they once were, and I’m not recovering as well as I used to.
Is your sleep holding you back?
How can you tell if your sleep, or lack thereof, is affecting your training and overall lifestyle?
1. Lack of mental clarity: You’re forgetful, lack attention span, and have poor judgement.
2. Getting sick more often: A lack of sleep prevents your immune system from firing on all cylinders.
3. Easily stressed and irritable: Quality sleep regulates our hormones that affect your mood.
4. Weight gain: Not getting enough sleep each night impacts your appetite. It’s makes you feel hungrier and leads to an increase in calorie intake. More often than not, that means poor choices.
5. Slower recovery: Your workouts are feeling more difficult and your recovery is slacking. Poor sleep zaps our energy, endurance, and desire to exercise.
Improve your quality of sleep
With my base training period set to begin in a few weeks it’s imperative I correct this, and quick. So what’s a triathlete, coach, father, and husband to do when his sleep needs some adjustment? Luckily, there’s plenty I can do!
1. Don’t hit the snooze button! I don’t normally do this, but it’s still worth mentioning. Getting up and out of bed right away is essential to setting yourself up for good sleep later that night. Yes, you take the first step to a good nights rest in the morning.
2. Spend time in the sun. I make it a point to get outside in the afternoon for a walk. This helps me break up the monotony of the workday, stretch the legs and soak in some vitamin D.
3. Exercise. I’m a triathlete so no problem here! You say you have no time? Ok, set an alarm to get up from your desk every hour, park your car in the furthest spot everywhere you go, take the stairs, lunge instead of walk, squat or plank while watching tv. You get the idea.
4. Limit alcohol and caffeine. I have my morning cup of coffee and then another most days between 1 pm and 2 pm. Any later than that and I run the risk of having the caffeine keep me awake later than I’d hope. Alcohol also prevents a restful nights sleep which is why I don’t drink during the week and rarely on the weekends. This isn't so much a conscious decision anymore, just something I've gotten used to doing.
5. Eat a normal sized dinner. Overeating late in the day prevents a restful nights sleep, much like alcohol. With your stomach working overtime to breakdown a large dinner, it increases the possibility of tossing and turning.
6. Limit fluids. This one seems obvious. Drinking a lot of water before bed is a recipe for multiple bathroom trips throughout the night.
7. Get 6-8 hours of sleep per night. I’m hovering around the 6 hour mark per night. It’s not terrible but could certainly be better. Finding ways to increase it, even by just 30 minutes can have a positive impact.
8. Put away all technology 30 minutes before bedtime, if you can an hour. The light from our phones and stimulation from the television don't allow our brains to power off in time for sleep. I'm still working on this one.
9. Set a bedtime and stick to it! Determining a set time to sleep each night and making it a point to be consistent will help teach the body to release calming hormones to help you fall asleep.
10. Make the room you sleep in, feel comfortable. For me, that means, clean sheets, a supportive pillow and cozy comforter. Also, tweak your thermostat so it's not too cold or too hot.
The obligations and events are starting to calm down for me which is great. Now’s the time to focus on improving sleep and proper nutrition ahead of the base building phase of training.