Friday, December 07, 2018

The Sleep-Deprived Triathlete

Way back in the earliest of posts in this blog, I lamented being such an outlier in terms of sleep.  I have never met anyone who has needed (or admitted to needing) the steady 9 hours of sleep I seem to require.  For that matter I hardly ever speak to other athletes who even acknowledge needing a mere 7 hours of sleep which is allegedly well below the average minimum required.     
So I am the type of person inclined to read this new book called “Why We Sleep”  

The book is hundreds of pages of research extolling the need for sleep.    

This chart is particularly striking, showing how among a study of young athletes, chronic lack of sleep correlated with a massive increase in sports injury (a far greater predictor of injury than hours spent practicing the sport, strength training, stretching, etc).  

The book even goes on to link athletic performance with adequate sleep. 

The book is so vehement in its blaming lack of sleep for almost all health problems that even I, the biggest of sleep partisans,  begin to wonder if the author is over-stating the importance of sleep.  I start to look at all the chronically sleep-deprived people I see dozing off standing up on trains and worry they will start simply dropping dead around me.

One of the big takeaways from the book is that one should maintain the same sleep schedule night after night, avoiding long naps and avoiding trying to make up for lost sleep on subsequent nights.  Unfortunately, since I am one of the 30% of population with a night owl type of circadian rhythm and struggle to fall asleep in the evening, I find after just one later night to bed I struggle to revert back to the desired early-to-bed schedule.    Of course I have also always been struggling to join my militant teammates who always wish to meet at 6am for an early ride or swim.

While traveling to races has been the big challenge to meeting my sleep needs, strangely, crossing the 8 time zones over the Pacific Ocean has helped re-set my night owl pattern and allow me to wake up early.  So in the weeks since my recent trans-Pacific flight I have been diligently seeking to stick to a 9pm to 6am sleep schedule, a schedule that is absurdly out of synch with the world around me. 

I have even cut down on caffeine (switching to a decaffeinated mix in the morning and always ordering cappuccinos when at cafes).  And I have eliminated alcohol -- and more or less any social life for that matter.   

It was nice at the recent Toda 10k to naturally just wake up before 6am without an alarm clock, and have lots of time before the race start.

However each night the struggle to fall asleep is a bit harder than the previous night, and it is upon waking each morning when the effects of the previous day's training session hits me and I wish to sleep in a bit later to recover.  So with travel, and evening work events ahead of me it is a big question whether I can maintain this early-to-bed program through my A races next month.   

1 comment:

TokyoRacer said...

That's very interesting, especially the correlation with sports injuries. I should start stressing the need for sleep more to my high school runners. But yes, you may be the only working person in the world to get or even try to get, 9 hours a night.
My system is, sleep 5 hours, eat breakfast, then nap for 2 hours. Works for me.