triathlon and family can mix

Sleep Cycles

The best performance enhancer. EPO? What?


It is no secret, a good nights’ sleep will help your performance; both physically and mentally. When you have a 9-5, family, and a full training schedule, how can you still grab a decent snooze?

I have been experimenting over the past 6 months with sleep cycles. I was first exposed to the idea of sleep cycles, more specifically not disrupting sleep cycles, listening in while my wife watched an episode of Dr. Oz. Yeah, I would never have dreamt (pun intended) that I would watch, let alone take advice from a daytime TV show. Alas, there I sat, taking in the advice of Dr. Michael Breus.

I am no expert, neither is this a comprehensive summary of his theory and advice. For that, check out his website.

The average person has a 90 minute sleep cycle, progressing from a shallow, to deep, back to shallow sleep with REM thrown into the mix. In the night, you go in and out of this cycle until woken. 5 cycles equals 7.5 hours of sleep; hence the 7-8 hours of sleep that is recommended by many experts.

When you are woken in the middle of a sleep cycle, your body isn’t ready to wake up. As anyone can attest to, if you are woken in a deep sleep, you feel groggy and pretty poor, even though you may have been asleep for 8 hours. Why is that? Disrupt the cycle, and you will feel the effects.

So here is what experimented with.

I tested if my sleep cycle was close to the 90 minutes proposed by Dr Breus. It can be tough to quantify exactly as a couple of questions are almost impossible to answer, (1) when did I actually fall asleep, (2) did I wake up on my own or by an external force, and (3) did I actually progress through the sleep cycles. After a week of varied bed and wake up times, I determined that I am pretty close to the 90 minute cycle. I would have been surprised if I wasn’t. I had a couple of rough starts as I purposely disrupted my sleep cycle; nothing a decent breakfast and caffeine couldn’t fix.

I then determined a time to go to bed that worked with my sleep cycle. I am pretty lucky, 1030 works for both my training and rest days. If I am in bed by 1030, and training is in the plan for the morning, I am up at 0500 with approximately 6.0 hours of sleep (4 sleep cycles). If a rest day is in the cards, I am up by 0630 with 7.5 hours of sleep (5 sleep cycles).

I know what you are thinking; 8 hours a week training and less than 8 hours of sleep each night? What gives?

I feel great. Sure there are days when I am tired, but how many triathletes do you know that aren’t after a full day of training? I wake up feeling rested, and it doesn’t take me long to get going on the swim, bike, or run. The odd time, very odd with my family, I can actually sneak in an additional cycle and grab 9 hours. Now you are talking…..

90 minute sleep cycles. Embrace them. It works.

Question: Have you experimented with sleep? What have you done?


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