Blog: Monster Sleep!
I’ve often been told that I over train and I’m guessing I’m not the only one. As hard as I’ll work to improve my strength, endurance, and gymnastics skills, I’ve always been very lazy about focusing on the one thing as important to my progress as air in my lungs or water in my body: sleep! Ironically, my laziness about being diligent in my rest really only requires me to be more lazy in the first place.
Most of us have day jobs in addition to the training we aim to get in every day, and there are only so many hours we have to work with. As much as we try to escape it with caffeinated beverages, a lack of sleep is a fast track to rough workouts, terrible relationships, and horrible insulin levels. The average American only gets around 6 hours of sleep, and at the levels of athletic stress we put our bodies under, it’s easy to see why we all need more.
There is plenty of research on the internet about sleep studies and good habits to attain the maximum benefits from the hours of sleep you do get. For starters, make sure it’s dark. This seems obvious, but there’s a reason why the sun goes down and comes back up in the morning. There’s also a reason why there are less daylight hours in the Fall and Winter than in the Summer. These are all nature’s ways of telling you when you should be resting and for how long.
When I say to sleep when it’s dark, I mean it! Studies have shown that even exposing a square inch of your skin to light can disrupt your hormone levels, thus influencing insulin, food digestion, fat loss, and muscle recovery and growth. Even the smallest of LEDs on your phone or other electrical appliances can influence your sleep, so I don’t think I even need to tell you to lose the TV in the bedroom. The bedroom should be for sleep, and you need to send that message to your brain.
You should also try to stick to some kind of sleep schedule, and have a pre-bedtime ritual every night that will send the signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep so it can start producing melatonin (the chemical that regulates our sleep cycles). Adding some stretching and a glass of water to your pre-bedtime ritual with help release toxins and lactic acid so you don’t wake up so sore the next day.
You also want to make sure and stay cool during your resting hours. If you’re too warm it increases your pulse rate and doesn’t allow your body to properly relax for sleep. During sleep our body temperature actually drops, so it’s important not to disrupt that natural signal.
While you rest your brain stays busy to keep your body running in top condition and prepare you for the day ahead. Without enough hours of restorative sleep, you won’t be able to work, learn, create, and communicate at a level even close to your true potential. You’ll be moody, fatigued, lose focus, and lack immunity, coordination, and reaction time (probably going to need those for most WODs).
It’s recommended that adults get 7.5-9 hours of sleep per night, but quantity isn’t nearly as important as quality. There are 3 main stages of sleep (transition to sleep, light sleep, and deep sleep) in addition to REM sleep. Stage 1 is only about the first 5 minutes, stage 2 lasts 10-25 minutes, and then comes deep sleep. Deep sleep plays a major role in maintaining our health, stimulating growth and development, repairing muscles and tissues, and boosting our immune systems. It’s all about restoring our bodies during this stage.
REM sleep is all about our brains and restoring our minds (which is why during this stage your arms and legs are actually paralyzed). During REM sleep we form neural connections and replenish neurotransmitters and chemicals like serotonin and dopamine that boost our mood during the day. These cycles run in about 90 minute increments, and if disrupted in the middle can significantly affect our whole day.
Like always, I’m barely even hitting the broad strokes here and I encourage you all to do a little research and start monitoring your own sleep. You can be a beast in the gym all you want, but if you suck at resting then you are really just throwing away all that hard work. Sweet dreams!