It’s time to wake up. Or not.

GoofyOnBikeOne of the most difficult decisions any endurance athlete must face on a daily basis is when to wake up and when to get more sleep.

You know the feeling don’t you? Lying there in a warm bed on a cold May morning. The road calls you to get in some mileage. Or, you might have a pool workout scheduled and it is 5:00 a.m. and still dark out. The pillow seems to hold your head fast.

If you succumb to the urge to stay in bed you face a day racked with guilt. You missed a workout. You’re falling behind. You won’t reach your goals. Or worse yet, you suck.

Ha. We all know how that brain cycle goes as well. Kind of goofy, isn’t it?

If you are disciplined you overcome the temptation to stay in bed. That takes a firm fix on your objectives and a will of iron. No pun intended. Of all athletes perhaps Ironman triathletes face the toughest get out of bed schedule of all. Balancing training for three sports is both mentally and physically tiring at times.

But a distance runner training for a marathon or any other race needs their sleep as well. And a cyclist hammering miles to ride a Century or compete in a road or crit race find it just as hard to rise, while tired, and go get the miles in.

One of the rude shocks I do not like about adding swimming to my regimen is going from a warm bed or shower into a cold pool. I make the mistake at times of standing in the shower too long at XSport before going into the pool. The warm water of that shower is likely the same cozy temperature of those blankets in bed. When I go to the pool the water feels extra cold. Kind of stupid of me.

So if you want to succeed you need to know how to cut your losses by planning your showers or your sleep accordingly. You know you like the comforts so build in enough time to let them take hold. Otherwise you feel sleep-deprived.

WalkingdeadThat means going to bed at a reasonable hour as often as possible. We all seem to live busy lives and there are nights when we get to bed later than we’d like. We wind up trundling about like the Walking Dead.

Forgive yourself for that. We can’t avoid our obligations in life. But if you’re going to train hard you must be as committed to going to bed early as you are to get up in the morning.

Of course the former (going to bed on time) makes the latter easier. Hard training also tends to make us tired in the evening. That makes it easier to go to sleep at 9:30 because you’re flat out ready to go to bed by then. Hopefully you have a spouse or companion that understands and supports that. The long haul can be just that.

Quality of sleep is important as well. We all know how hard it can be to train when you’ve had a restless night or worse yet, a succession of difficult sleep nights. You get out there but it feels like you’re going through the motions.

Dunning's aloneCompensating for poor sleep or lack of sleep is difficult. Naps help. They can be completely restorative at times. You drift off for a bit and the world flows past without a care. That can be some sweet stuff, right there.

My problem with naps is sometimes more mental than physical. For some reason when I wake from a nap of a half hour or an hour there is a foggy, depressed feeling that sometimes overcomes me. I have not studied the physiology of this, but there are 55 million results on Google for this phenomenon, including this assuring (and short) observation from a blogger on Healthline.com.

It is likely those of us that experience depression and anxiety in our lives have a brain susceptible to shift in chemistry as we’re napping. It usually doesn’t last long but it can hit hard. Frankly I almost view it as a comic tragedy. Like a Shakespeare play going on in my head. Sometimes talking aloud helps me get through the fog and back into the flow.

It is still always better to get a good night’s sleep, the most natural way to sustain good mental and physical health. During college while training 100 miles a week, I could fall asleep in a dorm room full of half-drunk college buddies playing REO Speedwagon at nearly full volume. I was an aggressive sleeper, and people knew not to mess with me because I was an absolute Mink if disturbed. I knew I needed sleep to train that hard and let it be known that it was my top priority.

And there really are times when you know you need more sleep. You court disaster if your body gets so tired that a cold or viral infections takes hold. You can see the warning signs. A sore throat is never, ever good. Neither is a constant craving for sweets. Aggravating or constant thirst. Elevated heart rate. All are signs of a body fighting fatigue and in need of more sleep.

image (1)You can also tell when you’ve compromised the natural sleep cycle when you lose enthusiasm for your training or racing. That means you need to block out the time for good sleep.

If possible, schedule that nap before your evening workout. Sometimes even 10 minutes of “down time” with the phone stashed away and nothing to do but listen to the quiet or the calm whirr of a ceiling fan is enough to give you the juice to go on.

I have noticed that I have a propensity at times to get really tired just before it’s time to work out. What’s up with that? Well, this is the psychosomatic side of sleep. For example, we often yawn before a race because of nerves. It’s our body’s way of collaborating with the brain to confront a period of perceived stress. “We need more air down here!” our bodies say.

This nervous response is a bit like the natural phenomenon of redirected aggression in birds and other animals. A bird trapped in defense of its territory will engage in activities such as “bill-wiping,” a behavior normally conducted after feeding. This appearance of relaxed behavior during times of stress functions in some way as a deflection of anxiety.

photo (89)There we have one of the secrets of sleep and our inability to wake. The human animal is just as susceptible to perceived stress and the physical tension of persistent physical exertion as any other creature on the planet. But unlike less sentient beings, we force ourselves into routines that invite rather than avoid stress.

Welcome the real world that is not so real. So to keep it real we need to prioritize to get the sleep our bodies need in order to perform at levels that are unnaturally good for us.

And if that makes sense, then you’ve gotten enough sleep today. If it doesn’t, go take a nap and come back later.

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About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @gofast and blogs at werunandride.com, therightkindofpride.com and at 3CCreativemarketing.com. Online portfolio: http://www.behance.net/christophercudworth
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3 Responses to It’s time to wake up. Or not.

  1. wanderwolf says:

    That depressed feeling after a nap sometimes is enough to throw me out of the loop for the rest of the day. But I’ve found that if the nap is shorter (not one that goes one for more than 30 minutes) I’ll wake up refreshed and without the depression/feeling like I’ve woken up for (intentionally “for”, I feel like crap after such a nap) the dead.
    Thank for the discussion on rest and sleep! It’s been something I’ve been neglecting to pay proper attention to lately.

    • You’re absolutely right about the length of nap. I’ve noticed that it’s a nap of an hour or so that brings on the heavy feeling. Plus sleeping that long (an hour or more) sometimes upsets the later sleep cycle. I did once run 30 miles in 45 degree weather with rain. Was so tired I fell asleep at 3:00 p.m. and did not wake till the next morning at 6 am. Had NO idea what day or time it was by then. ha.

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