In the fall of 2013, I was a first year Masters student and was struggling with my new “school – work – training – life” balance. While I felt that I was doing better at sleeping than I had in 2012 when I was working full time (to be save for grad school), I wasn’t giving myself enough time to recover (my focus is sleep!)
Every fall, my coach asks all the athletes to complete a sleep survey over a six-day period. In the survey, we have to provide an approximation of how many hours we slept the night before (less than 5, 5-6 hours, 6-7 hours, 7-9 hours or more than 9 hours) and the quality of sleep we are getting (5 is a great, deep, sleep with lots of dreams and 0 is didn’t sleep at all). In 2013, I only filled out the survey for 2 days - Why? Was my sleep quality so poor, and my amount of sleep so low I was embarrassed to tell my coach (this is very likely the case)? - And my rankings of the sleep quality was 2 and 3. What! That is not a sufficient quality of sleep for a high performance athlete.
In 2014, I have put a higher priority on sleep for myself, and am trying to get at minimum, 8 hours a night. I’ve really noticed that after a few days of less than 8 hours of sleep a night, I’m tired during class, and sometimes while I’m at work. And I don’t like it. This year, my efforts to sleep better were clearly demonstrated in the data I got back from my coach after the sleep survey. Five out of the six days I had a sleep quality ranking of 4, 3 of the six days I slept between 7-9 hours, 1 days I slept between 6-7 hours and, the big finale of the sleep survey was the final day, when I slept more than 9 hours. This year seemed a lot easier for me to always hit those 7-9 hours of sleep, likely because I’ve made it a high priority. Not only has it been a priority, but there have been external factors, like my work and school schedules. This semester, I only have one 9am class. The 7am mornings I had last year are much more rare this semester. I will be trying to maintain this going into 2015.
Looking at the data, my coach found that this year across the team, we had our best sleep after our biggest workouts (high fives, all ‘round, Blues!)
Earlier in the year, I came across an article published on Entrepreneur: The Beginner’s Guide to Getting Better Sleep. It was this article that heavily influenced me to make sleep a priority for the 2014-2015 training year, as well as the academic year. Here’s the cliff notes version for you – these are applicable for everyone, not just athletes.
- The effects of sleep deprivation are decreases in cognitive function, decreases in adaptation and recovery, mood swings and general ill temperament, lowers reaction time, lowers power output.
- Sleep debt is cumulative. Several days at 6 hours sleep or less can have a big impact. Two straight weeks of of 6 hours or less is equivalent to not having slept for 48 hours straight, which entails major losses in cognitive functions.
- You won't notice when you're sleep deprived. When studied, participants felt they were performing up to par after being sleep deprived, however their results showed differently. Just because you think you're ok with just just 6 hours sleep, doesn't mean you are.
- Ice baths: I take a 10 minute ice bath on Tuesday nights, after a high volume workout. This helps to reduce the inflammation from the workout and help with the recovery for the following day.
- Contrast baths: I take contrast baths every Wednesday morning. This means I get up about an hour earlier in order to get to the Sports Medicine clinic, do the contrast bath, and have time to change and get to my morning class. It involves going back and forth between a tub of cold water (1 minute, in water between 10-15 degrees) and hot water (2 minutes, between 100-115 degrees).
Recovery days are an unglorified aspect to an athlete's training regimen, but they are crucial to staying healthy. Wednesdays are my recovery day, and start out with the ice bath I talked about above. Then, I head to classes for 5 hours (yikes!), which is followed up with a quick weight lifting session, and a recovery workout on the bike (medium intensity with a short rest in between each repetition).
You can find plenty of research publications and websites that discuss both of the above recovery treatments, if you’re interested in learning more. There’s also stretching, self-massage, and using a foam roller or “the stick” as recovery activities.
And with that, I am looking forward to finishing up some readings, before I head home to get a good nights rest!