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?
Break it down, then build it back up.
Most athletes can agree, taking a purposeful rest day can be tough, not physically of course, but mentally. It can feel at times that you are letting valuable training time slip away along with your hard earned fitness.
As I taper for my first Half-Ironman race (this Sunday), I can’t help but feel that rest days on Thursday and Friday will negatively effect my performance. Alas, I must resist the urge to grab my helmet, and hit the road for one last long ride.
It is no secret that your body requires rest to repair from the stress applied to it by training. You literaly tear your muscles while swimming, biking, and running; in the following 24-48 hours, your body repairs the damage. If your rest period is not long enough, then your body will suffer accordingly.
There are many benefits of rest days, and I have found scheduled rest days even more benefical not only for myself, but for the girls as well. Here is my top reasons why rest days are as important, maybe more important, than training days.
Family Activity – With scheduled rest days, mine are Thursday and Sunday, we as a family have the ability to plan ahead. It can be a trip to an amusment park, the zoo, or a BBQ in the park; doesn’t really matter, but we can schedule time together without having to find a way to work around my training.
Rest Physically – It feels great to kick my feet up on the couch and turn on a rerun of ‘insert your favorite show here’. My legs always thank me for taking a day off from the intensity of my current training plan.
Rest Mentally – Your body needs a break, but so does your mind. Without having to prepare for my next training sesstion, I can use the evening to recharge mentally. This usually consists of a cup of tea on the deck with my wife.
Repair your Gear – My Cervelo is always faster after a good cleaning, I can’t explain why. When trying to squeeze training into my life, a couple of things get pushed to the back burner. Regular maintenace is one of them. Take the time to take care of your gear, and it will take care of you on future training sessions.
Variety – I love Triathlon, but sometimes the monotony can beceome a little too much. I like to take my rest days to go for a hike, family bike ride, play ball, or do something other than my regular training activities. I come back on Monday ready to hit the pool again, knowing that I have a break coming in 4 days.
So kick back, leave the bike in the garage, and spend a day next weekend with your family.
Question: How do you schedule your rest days? Do you have a fixed day, or do you take one when needed?
Sometimes it sucks, who am I kidding, it always sucks.
Getting out of bed while the family is still fast asleep….some days I want to crawl back under the covers. But alas, with my gym bag over my shoulder, I am off to the gym and the only one on the road.
Over the past 6 months I have found that hitting the pool, gym, or path for an early morning workout has given me the free time to spend with my family during the afternoon and evenings.
It isn’t always easy, I do it 5 days a week, here is how I have been able to successfully do it.
1 Sleep In – When you can, turn off the alarm clock. For the chance to grab an extra hour or two, I would trade the world and typically sleep into 0700 on rest days.
2 Set a Schedule – Discuss with your wife about your plans, and set a ‘bed time’. Sleep is important for life, and more important when training. 8 hours is recommended, but I routinely operate with 6-7 hours. I try to catch up on rest days (see point 1).
3 Fuel Properly – Ensure that you have some calories prior to your workout. I snack on a handful of almonds and a piece of fruit on the drive to the gym. If you aren’t Paleo, a breakfast wrap with eggs and vegetables would work just as well.
4 Hydrate – Bring a water bottle with you. This is a mistake I made for a couple of months. Once I added 7-10 oz of water, my performance increased during my morning bike and run sessions.
5 Stretch – Before and after a workout, I don’t have to tell you how important it is. But when trying to squeeze a 2 hour workout into 2 hours, something has to give, and for me, it was the post stretch. After a couple of trips to the physio for ‘shin splints’, I found a way to get the stretch in.
So hit snooze once at 0500, get out of bed, and hit the gym early.
Question: Early morning works for me, is there any other time that works for you?