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Sleep? Are you kidding me. By Coach Lew Hartley.

 By Coach Lew Hartley

During the past month I was listening to some of my fellow athletes mentioning how they battle to sleep during the hot summer nights. I thought I may do a bit of research about sleep, how much we need, why it’s important and if we struggle with it what we can do about sleeping better. As expected I found quite a bit of material on this subject, however the more I learned the more I realised sleeping might be a bigger challenge than I initially thought.

In this and the next few blogs I’d like to chat about:

* The fundamentals of sleep – how much we should sleep etc.

* The practicalities of fitting the right amount of sleep into our daily lives.

* How we can plan and build our schedule to meet our sleep requirements.

 Hush my little baby…

Before we get brave I thought let’s have a look at what the experts say about sleep for an athlete. Probably the most appropriate article I found was one on the Australian Sports Commission’s website: Strategies for quality sleep by Michelle Austin, Psychologist, ACT Academy of Sport. Before you do anything else I’d urge you to read this article. What this article will teach you is

·       What sleep deprivation is, the symptoms and consequences

·       What you can do before bed and in bed to get more sleep
·       Strategies that will help you get better quality sleep
·       And that an athlete probably needs about 10 hours of sleep a night.

On what planet does One Day, less Family time, less work time and less training time leave 10 hours for sleep? Clearly the target market for that amount of sleep must be full time athletes! Or is it?

Which way do you sleep?

Not being satisfied with the 10 hour a night recommendation I looked at different forms of sleep to see if there’s a way out. Naturally when I saw an article titled “Alternative Sleep Cycles: 7-10 Hours Are Not Needed” I was curious, very curious. Enter the Polyphasic Society. I don’t believe there’s all that much value in reading this article by Joe Martino but if you wish you can do that here.
In summary it describes different sleep cycles namely:

·       Monophasic                   - This is our normal 7 to 10 hours of sleep.

·       Byphasic                   - More commonly known as siesta sleep i.e. 6 hours at night with 20 to 90 min naps around midday.

·       Everyman                  - I’m not sure what is so “everyman” about it. It consists of 3.5 hour core sleep and 3 x 20 min naps.

·       Dymaxion                  - Only for those of us who are genetically modified with the DEC2 gene and consist of 4 x 30 mins sleeps.

·       Uberman                  - The name says it all! 6 to 8 x 20 min naps per day.

Practically I believe we mainly use Monophasic and Byphasic sleep and a combination of these should be adequate for us to remain healthy. According to the article “Brain Basics: Understanding sleep” published by National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (I’m assuming in the USA) “Getting too little sleep creates a "sleep debt," which is much like being overdrawn at a bank. Eventually, your body will demand that the debt be repaid.” The good thing about that is that it implies the debt can be repaid and therefore if our busy lives doesn’t allow us 10 hours of sleep a night, working in a good nap, especially after a training session on the weekend, is still a really, really good thing.

Not everyone requires the same amount of sleep. As with all things triathlon, know and listen to your body – if it needs sleep, sleep, it’s really important.

Food for thought

In the article “Sleep-Deprived Triathletes Face an Uphill Battle” by Dr. Krishna R. Polu he says the following:
“Unfortunately, sleeping has become equated with laziness and fails to find its way onto our list of priorities. This perception is skewed in a society that is preoccupied with doing too many things at once. Adequate sleep is part of that balance, and in triathlon it may be the most important choice in our preparation for the next race.”
Now that we understand the importance of sleep, let’s prioritise and plan our sleep as much as we do the swim, cycle and run. More on this in the next blog.

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