My body taught me a lesson this week. It taught me that I can control it completely… for a while. However, there comes a point where biology overcomes psychology.
I pride myself on getting a LOT done in my waking hours. I tend to use any bit of down time I have, to complete tasks that help to move me in the direction I want to go. Often those tasks are related to my work which may include any one of my 3 businesses (including Brewsters Running of course) but also spending time playing with my kids, which I also count as a productive use of my time. Because I find my work and family time very stimulating and enjoyable, it doesn’t tire me out like some things might, but it does mean my days are often very long. On an average day, I’ll get up at 5am and be either driving, working on a train, teaching in a classroom, working on a computer, working on broken bodies, working with runners, coaching athletes, speaking to groups, consulting one on one or some combination of those things through until about 9pm. After that I am generally busy with household tasks for about an hour then I get my computer out and log another hour or so, on my online business before I get to close my eyes around 11pm or later.
Like I said, I enjoy it, so it doesn’t seem like hard work most of the time, but occasionally my body reminds me of what I owe it……… Sleep.
If you have run Ultra-Marathons before, you will no doubt be very familiar with the concept of sleep deprivation. Being able to push on, after a full day of hard effort and into the night is part and parcel of what is required for the sport. For some of us, getting through the day, then the night, then the day and perhaps even another night may be on the cards. In one race (where I was having a particularly bad time) I actually saw the moon rise in the sky three times before I got to finish and get to bed. Hallucinations, delirium and the most profound feeling of fatigue were my not so subtle reminders of the importance of rest on that occasion.
I know there are a lot of people out there who can function quite well on very little sleep and their performance in their day to day lives seems go largely unaffected. But what does science have to say about our minimum sleep requirement?
Dr. Christopher Winter, medical director of a US based Sleep Medicine Center states that the standard 8 hours that we are told we need, is simply not true. The actual number of hours sleep we need can be determined by 3 simple variables, or questions.
1) Does it take you more than 15-20 mins to get to sleep? If yes, you are probably getting more sleep than you need.
2) Do you tend to wake up before your alarm or earlier than you need? If yes, you have slept too long.
3) Do you often feel tired during the day and feel the urge to have a powernap? If yes, you need more sleep.
Simple right! Well it should be. Our bodies have a remarkable ability to tell us what they need. Just as mine has been doing this week! I even gave up a morning run with my best mate today so that I could steal another hour’s sleep. And here I am at 11pm writing this blog and not feeling overly tired. Win!
The three simple rules above are a good place to start, but of course if you have trouble sleeping due to a health related issue, then these rules may not be 100% applicable.
Athletes obviously have a different rest/sleep requirement than someone living a largely sedentary lifestyle. For example, Roger Federer sleeps between 11 and 12 hours every night. Usain Bolt needs 8-10 hours sleep but Tiger Woods only needs 4 to 6 hours.
Studies show that chronic sleep loss will decrease glucose metabolism (production of energy from sugar) by 30-40%. Less than optimal sleep can decrease the time required to reach total exhaustion by 11%. A 20-30 minute powernap however, can improve alertness and attention by 100%.
Do you monitor your sleep requirements like you do your diet or your training schedule? Most of us don’t, at least until we find ourselves falling asleep at the desk, on the couch after dinner or worse, at the wheel. Perhaps sleep needs to be moved higher up on the priority list for many of us. This week it sure did for me.
So, I leave you with these ideas to ponder and two more words…
Run long (then sleep),