It's the off season and training focuses are shifted, the days are shorter, the nights are longer, and it's cold outside, so, staying in bed is so much easier, right? But, is this all bad?
Actually, the answer is "No"- as long as you aren’t nearing sleep hours of Rip VanWinkle, missing work or other important events.
The bigger issue, though, is when spring and summer roll around. Not only is race season in full force, so your training has ramped up, but you still (hopefully) have a job and possibly significant others and/or kids that rely on your presence. In order to fit it all in, it is often your sleep that takes a back seat. The reality is, this is a less than ideal circumstance.
Sleep allows us not only to think more clearly, but also recover more effectively from our stressful workouts, function at a higher performance, have a higher level of general overall energy to get though our busy lives, and make us generally happier (which everyone appreciates - especially around the holidays).
Individuals normally need 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and athletes in higher loads of training can require up to another hour of sleep.
If you are not able to arrange your schedule to get the necessary amount of sleep, we highly recommend considering short 20-minute power naps.
Dan McCarthy, High Performance Consultant at USA Swimming states:
"Sleep is the time when the body recovers from the stresses loaded upon it, and the repair of muscle and connective tissue begins. Naps are an excellent tool for athletes in training and on game day as well."
Furthermore, John Underwood, Director Life of an Athlete Human Performance Project states:
"Getting enough quality and quantity of sleep is near the top of the list for athlete recovery strategies. Minimal sleep (six hours or less) for four days has been shown to affect cognitive (thinking) function and mood. All sport requires the ability to process information very quickly and react. Athletes also need to have high levels of focus and motivation. These functions will be impaired without adequate sleep. Minimal sleep can also decrease glucose metabolism which fuels the brain and the body for mental and physical performance. Immune function can also be impaired which puts athletes at a greater risk for sickness."
It is challenging to make it all work, but the best thing to do is start getting in the habit of getting on a regular sleep schedule. Just like training, you will have to plan when you need to go to bed based on when you need to wake up in the morning. If you are a morning workout person, you just might need to force yourself to go to sleep at 8pm so you get the appropriate sleep you need.
Of course, that brings us to life balance. How do you get the sleep you need and still be able to do all the other things in your life? Well, tackle that subject in Part 4, so stay tuned!