During the summer months we often wake quite early to run or ride before the wind and heat pick up. A few times this summer I even rode in the morning on weekdays. That required getting out the door by 5:30 am to get in a thirty mile ride before work.
But it’s now dark at 5:30 a.m. It’s even dark at 6:30 a.m. Daylight savings time will kick in soon, but daylight will still be a critical commodity, and 5:00 in the afternoon will become sundown here in Illinois.
We all deal with our workout schedules on our own terms. Going into the winter months, it is tempting to slack off and not get the same volume going day-to-day. The pounds tend to creep back on as well. Comfort food becomes tempting as the cold weather sets in. It’s a recipe built for the winter blahs.
But one thing I’ve learned year-to-year is that getting more sleep this time of year is as critical as getting in more workouts. The body and brain (in my case) is already adapting to less cumulative sunlight. There’s a tendency toward mood sinks associated with seasonal depression. I recognize the triggers and know the remedies are getting enough sleep AND enough exercise. If you’re training for a really large challenge such as an Ironman triathlon, getting good sleep should be considered the fifth tangent of the sport along with swimming, cycling, running and nutrition. Without good sleep, your body and mind will crash. It’s not an “if,” but a “when” question.
I find that allowing myself an extra thirty to sixty minutes of sleep during the transitional months going into winter can be really helpful to overall well-being.When I get overtired or feel exhausted every day getting out of bed, that’s when negative thoughts and rumination creeps in. It takes discipline to get to bed on time, but that can be really helpful in overall emotional management.
My wife is much stronger about the early morning swim sessions at 5:30. She’s been doing that for years. I’ve joined her a number of times, but coming off a busy weekend it can be tough to pop out of bed on Monday morning at 4:50 a.m. and get off to swim at 5:30. Yes, it often feels good once you’re doing it, yet sometimes there are genuine drags of fatigue during the day. My job sometimes is to get her to rest rather than plug in one more workout at 5:00 a.m.
I’m fortunate to be able to swing home from work during lunch to catch a nap if need be. I always set my alarm for a maximum of thirty minutes of rest. Otherwise I either oversleep or wake up even groggier and feeling depressed. That’s the weirdest thing to me, how I sometimes feel so down coming out of a good nap. Total lethargy. It feels like the whole world is on my back. I’ve become convinced that there is some sort of brain chemistry taking place in mid-afternoon naps that lead to deep sleep.
That’s not usually the case after a really long bike ride or run. Then the nap is recovery. The depressed state is almost like my body and brain telling me, “Okay, that was too much.”
So it’s critical, as Ariana Huffington often preaches, to focus on consistently good sleep. I once tried getting by on six hours of sleep a night during my early 20s. I was running sixty to seventy miles a week at the time. My best friend joined me in the experiment. It quickly went sour. Both of us came down with colds from lack of real rest during all that training.
Sleep needs vary, and in some ways I sleep a little less than I did even back in college, when getting eight solid hours was vital while training 300-400 miles a month in distance running.
These days, I forgive myself for feeling sleepy and wanting to get enough rest. I work a full-time job, do freelance writing as well, volunteer on several civic and arts boards, write and paint for publication and shows, and enjoy socializing during much of the week and weekend.
Then I run three to four times a week, swim two days a week and usually cycle a couple days a week as well. It’s no wonder I’m tired now and then. I’m happy doing all that for the most part. But there are times when a genuine recharge is critical.
It’s all about self-care. If stress or busy schedules add up, it literally pays to sleep it off now and then. Pull the covers up. Reschedule that workout or replace it with something later in the day. Cozy up and let your toes curl under the covers. It’s not a sin. In fact, it may be a lifesaver.
Sleep it off now and then.