Sleep – Is 8 Hours Really Necessary?

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I was asked by Chloe of to write a guest post and I was honored that she would ask.  She and Steph have great information and as they say it is like getting two blogs for one.  I wanted to write about sleep because just a few days after I was asked to write the guest post the topic came up.  I am repurposing the post I wrote for them on my blog since it is a topic that should be discussed.  Here is my post:



Are these necessary?

Is 8 hours really necessary?  Maybe more or maybe less?  Why am I even approaching this topic you might be asking yourself, so let me give you a little bit of background about me.

I take my training and racing seriously.  I am focused on becoming a better triathlete on a daily basis and it was through this that I started to wake up at 3am to eat breakfast and drink some coffee then fall back asleep for an hour prior to training around 5am.

When I talk about the 3am wake up call I typically get a response of:  You are crazy! (You’re thinking the same thing right now aren’t you?)  Or the other response I get and typically through Twitter is:  Do you EVER sleep? (Yes, I do and I sleep as much as the next person I just have a different pattern.)

My patter consists of resting (and I mean purely resting on the couch) starting around 8pm and not moving.  My body is in a state of relaxation and is recovering from the morning workout and day full of work activities.  I get in bed by 9pm and begin to fall asleep around 930p (If I haven’t fallen asleep on the couch already – told you I am in a state of complete relaxation.)  I then wake up at 3am and eat, drink and tweet and fall back asleep between 330a and 345a.  I then wake up at 445a and am out the door to start my training by 5a.

So you can see from this scenario that I sleep anywhere from 7 hours to 8 hours, I just don’t get it the way most people do and I bet that I probably get more than most people.

I have read articles from back in 2007 that there was no direct study linking sleep to athletic performance but just extrapolations.  Obviously this would do us no good because you cannot extrapolate the damage that an endurance athlete does to their body during their training cycle compared to the average person who is exercising for 5-6 hours and probably not at the intensity level of marathon or triathlon training.

Since 2007 there have been other studies done and the most recent one I found included testing young males (18-27) based on three different sleep cycles.  They were asked to sleep for 8 hours in one week, then 4 hours in another and finally 12 hours in another.  The 4 hours was the sleep deprivation cycle and was used to compare against the other two cycles.

The interesting part of this study, for me, is that the sleep deprivation was linked to metabolizing glucose less efficiently in addition to the fact that levels of cortisol were higher.

The glucose levels for the group were no longer normal during the sleep deprivation week and resembled those found in the elderly.  Since we know that glucose and glycogen (stored glucose) are the energy sources behind the ability of an endurance athlete to perform one can conclude that getting enough sleep is very important.

What the study doesn’t address is how much sleep is enough?  I don’t know that getting 8 hours is perfect but I do know that getting 4 hours is not enough and not just because of the glycogen stores, but because your mind is not in the game.

You have a tendency to lose focus with sleep deprivation and this is caused by the increase in cortisol.  If your mind is not focused then the task at hand is going to be more and more difficult to perform.  Think about your best race and how well you slept the night before and think about your worst race and how you slept the night before.

I am comfortable with the amount of sleep that I get because I very rarely feel tired during the day and so for me my schedule works.  You may need 8 or 10 or 12 hours of sleep to get your performance to be at its peak.  Just like eating and training there are going to be different responses for everybody but there are rules of thumb and I will go out on a limb and say you should sleep more than 4 hours per night.

How much sleep do you get?  Do you nap?  Do you feel more hungry on days when you do not sleep well?

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  1. Interesting post. I’ve been very “aware” of my amount of sleep lately since I’m peaking with my half marathon training. Regularly, I think I require about 7 hours of sleep a night to function normally. However, during training, I find myself needed about 9 hours of sleep and am exhausted by the time 9PM rolls around every night. I also find nutrition plays an enormous role in this (obviously).
    Kate @ NaturaStride recently posted..Guest Post! Julie Partridge from Bryn Athyn Workout StudioMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      I am pretty regular with my sleep except on Fridays which is rest day. On rest day I will go to bed at 10p or so (maybe later) and awake around 630-7a and that works for me then as well.

  2. Johann says:

    I sleep very little compared to most other people and/or runners. I average 4.5 hours sleep per day and it works fine for me. I just can’t sleep more. My son is 10 years old and sleeps 6 hours a day max. When he was younger he was always awake while other toddlers would sleep. Specialists said he just doesn’t need more sleep, simple as that. So the two of us certainly have something in us that allow us to get by with not much sleep.
    Johann recently posted..Race PhotosMy Profile

  3. Nope, never nap and NEVER put up my feet during the day. Frankly I’m standing almost all day except for when I’m on the computer or driving! 8pm..I’m sending barrages of BRUSH YOUR TEETH!!!! I wish I could lay down at 8pm and not move. haha!!!! I’m sure I don’t get enough sleep. I wake up a few times a night every night as well.
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  4. Christie says:

    I wake up at 2:50am monday-friday to make sure I get my workout in before I have to be to work. I feel so refreshed in the mornings and love the solitariness (is that a word?) of them. I do the 8:30 ‘couch rest’ and in bed by 9 too. I don’t mind being called crazy any more… embrace it man! :)
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  5. Jeff Irvin says:

    Love me my sleep. I am good with 6-7hrs and really anything more than that make me feel sluggish. The wife needs a solid 8-9hrs. Everyone is different.

    When I am in a heavy training cycle quality sleep is extremely important due to the need to recover for the next day.

    Lots of us probably do not get the necessary amount of sleep and it could potentially hurt our training.
    Jeff Irvin recently posted..Man’s Best FriendMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      There is no doubt about the quality of sleep. Karen always asks did you hear this or did you hear that. The answer is always no. I’m O-U-T out and nothing will stir me when I am in deep REM. I once slept through a gas station blowing up near my house when I was younger.

      Maybe the Jimmy Shoes will allow you less sleep since they help with recovery?

  6. marlene says:

    I can definitely feel it when I am, or am not, getting enough sleep. The magic number for me is around 8 hours, but I can function very well on 7. Less than 7 is no good. I can get away with 6 hours one night, but not consecutive nights. [so I don’t worry too much if I have an evening event one day that will keep me up later than usual]

    I’ve never really been able to nap, but I do spend as much time as I can between workouts in “rest” mode – just laying down and recovering, even if I am not sleeping.

    Great post!
    marlene recently posted..Week 12My Profile

  7. kc says:

    Great post! Sleep is not overrated that’s for sure. I nap like a bear on the weekend too. I found over the years that I need at least 6 hours of sleep per night to function at my best. I like the idea of getting up earlier and eating, then going back to sleep for another hour or so before training. I may need to try that.
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  8. Kevin says:

    I need a solid 8 hours of straight sleep or I am worthless for the entire day. I’m a night owl though. I get some of my best work done after 10PM and could easily stay up till 2AM and then just sleep in. That doesn’t always work with life though. I usually end up taking a 15 or 20 minute power nap after lunch each day as well. It’s either take a nap or be drowsy all afternoon.
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  9. BDD says:

    i think we need 8 hours a day, you hear about crazy people who “claim” they only sleep 3-4 hours a night and train just fine, the body will wear down quicker and crsh on you and make you sleep, when I sleep this then 8 hours more then once a week, my body will demand a longer sleep night 10-12 hours to recover.
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  10. misszippy1 says:

    I think it really is an individual thing, but I can say I always feel my best on 8-9 hours. After long runs (20-plus) I do need a nap too if I want to function the rest of the day. So it’s usually in bed by 9 or 9:30 and up again by 5. On my rest days, I sleep until 7 with the same bed time. Love that.

    I couldn’t make it the way you do it–once I’m up, I’m up!
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  11. Emz says:

    I want to know how to sleep!! I suck at sleeping. Do those rem things work?
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  12. Jim says:

    This is interesting Jason. I find I perform best when I get 6-1/2 to 7 hours of sleep with a 20min nap in the afternoon or after training on a weekend. I used to try to go on less than that, but my body wore down quickly.
    Jim recently posted..Running From LA to Chicago … And Still Standing!!!My Profile

  13. Megan says:

    I strive for 7-8 hours but if a few days go by and I only get 6ish hours, I can totally tell at work and during my training. I always get 9+ hours on the weekends though. :)
    Megan recently posted..A Saturday full of bikingMy Profile

  14. Chuck says:

    Great post- needed this. Thanks man
    Chuck recently posted..Coconut Meat SauceMy Profile

  15. Beth says:

    Nice post! My question is…Why wake up for the “feeding”? I (and all the other Ironman athletes I know) tend to either a) eat something tiny on the way to session #1 and a big brekkie following or b) eat nothing if the session does not have a lot of intensity or is one hour or less. I wouldn’t ever wake up to eat and then go back to bed- sleep is more important! (And I train 20+ hrs/week).
    I have read some research through hammer nutrition and other places that says its not necessary – and can be beneficial to your aerobic system- to eat prior to a morning session.
    There are definitely both sides to this argument, just wanted to throw it out there. Not criticizing- just seeing if i can get you some extra sleep!

    • CTER says:

      Beth –

      Thank you for commenting and visiting my blog. Interesting that you bring this up because today I woke up late, threw on my sneakers and started running and it was tough. I did not eat anything and I struggled.

      At this point it might be just out of habit and my body is used to it. I will tell you that it started with reading that it takes a few hours (2-4 depending on person) for the carbs you eat to kick in. I eat a top off breakfast of two rice cakes with 1/2 tbsp of nut butter and a sliced banana on top. The calories probably come out to 215 total and when I get going I feel great.

      • Beth says:

        Well, I agree with the fact that you need to do what feels right for YOUR body. If that is topping off with a mini breakfast 2 hours prior to workout- then you should do it!
        My point was rather that if your workout is less than say, 90 minutes in duration, your body should not go through all of it’s glycogen stores, so a “top off” might not be vital. If it’s longer than 90 minutes or a race, you may reach the bottom of your glycogen stores and thus need those extra reserves.
        Always fun chatting about this kind of stuff…

        Read this article! It starts out along your line of thinking, but as you see – it takes a twist. Make sure to read the sections “But I’m Hungry!” and “Sleep or Eat”.,

        • CTER says:

          I love talking about this stuff because I am always learning.

          That is a great article to read and it definitely takes a twist. One other item I failed to mention about getting up at the wee hours is that I know on race evening and day I will be jittery and I don’t want that to be the first time that I am waking up that early to eat something. In my thinking of don’t do anything different on race day well that would be something different if I hadn’t done it before. Extreme? Maybe but I am used to it now and I am still getting in 7 hours of sleep plus I rest all night before getting in bed.

          The other thing I did not mention is that if it is a workout of 90 minutes or more I will have that 2 rice cake recipe (although I am going to switch to smoothies now!) and if it is less than that I eat 1 of those rice cake smoothies (which I will not eat anything now.)

          I love the trial and error aspect of all of this which is also why I don’t think I will ever stop training/racing for triathlons because each day is a learning experience that you can apply to the future.

        • CTER says:

          Beth –

          I have to thank you for your advice. In the past two weeks I have been using smoothies in the morning before workouts and I have not only lost about 7 pounds in the past week without trying but I have been having great morning workouts. They have all been spot on and I have to thank you for providing me the advice that you did.

          Much appreciated.

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