"Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

- George S. Patton, U.S. Army General, 1912 Olympian

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sweet Dreams

I am a morning person. I always have been. I don't need alarm clocks, coffee, a splash of cold water or anything else to get me out of bed. I've been able to do this for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories include watching ESPN at 5am as a 4-year old (other kids grew up watching cartoons - I grew up watching sports highlights and classic college basketball games). I have siblings that can sleep past noon and wouldn't wake up if the house was being bulldozed. That's not me. It doesn't matter how late I got to bed, I'm up early. Call it a blessing or a curse, but that's the way it is.

This can make getting extra sleep difficult. If I want 10 hours, I had better be in bed by 8pm. Not always easy to do, especially with kids. However, as I've reflected on and reread Dr. Graham's chapter on sleep in his book Nutrition and Athletic Performance, I feel like I need to figure out ways to get more of it.

Two Fridays ago I was extremely tired when I put my son to bed around 7pm. So tired, that I fell asleep (there was even a Blazer game to watch--I must have been REALLY tired). When my wife came to bed an hour later, I got up, mulled around the house for a few minutes and decided I didn't have anything better to do, so I went back to bed. I don't get 11 hours of sleep very often. My schedule just doesn't allow it (going to bed at 6pm would be very inconvenient). I average around 7 hours a night or so. So when I woke up the next morning, I was jumping out of bed, ready hit the road for me first 10-miler of the year. Instead I ran 11 miles and felt great the entire time.

Later that day I ran I was analyzing the run and thought back to my week. I recalled my diet, my other runs, my stress-levels, my moods, etc. The only variable that I could think of that changed was the number of hours I slept on Friday night. Makes sense enough. I also finished eating for the day around 5:30pm, which is very unusual, as I often snack when I'm up late working or watching TV. Was this just a fluke? Or could be replicated? And if it could be replicated, can I somehow make myself tired enough to sleep 11 hours without completely draining the energy I'm going to need to get up and run 26.2 miles?

I examined my sleep schedule for the week and noticed that I had been up later than usual on Wednesday night. Thursday I had felt fine and Thursday night was normal. Friday morning I felt good but by mid-afternoon I could tell I was running low on energy and was looking for a nap.

I tried to follow this routine as closely as possible last week, staying up a little later Wednesday night, hoping that by Friday night I would be ready sleep a 10 hours or more. Lo and behold, the same results. I awoke ready to go. I had energy throughout my run. I felt great after my run and throughout the rest of the day.

Speaking of the dangers of getting too little sleep and its relationship to performance, Dr. Graham states:

"Sure, we can do it; we can get through the day. But mental clarity, physical prowess, and coordination on all levels will be compromised. Injury risk rises exponentially with sleep deprivation."

He challenges the reader that if they want to see "huge" improvements in their athletic performance, to experiment with getting more sleep than they currently are. It's important to note that physical rest is only one part of proper rest. Sensory rest, emotional rest and physiological rest are also imperative if productive rest is to occur.

Physiological rest is basically not making your body work while you are sleeping (i.e. digesting a large or complex meal while sleeping). If it means eating a smaller meal or eating earlier in the day, then so be it. But don't make your body compete against itself while it is trying to recover.

The deeper and more profound the rest, the faster the body rejuvenates itself and recovers from the exertions of the days gone by. To the athlete, this translates directly into faster recovery, improved performance, a longer career, a lowered likelihood of injuries, better rehabilitation after injury and a healthful and youthful life after competition.

I'm now in week three of this experiment. I'll have a good-sized meal at around 5:30 and try to be in bed by 8:30 or 9pm, giving myself around 10 hours of rest before hitting the road for a 15-miler tomorrow morning. Sweet dreams...

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