I was asked by Chloe of 321delish.com 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:
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.