Training for a triathlon is an exhausting process. Once you throw in swims, bikes, runs, cross-training, laundry, and gear maintenance, a triathlete can easily put 20 hours a week or more just dealing with the demands of the sport. And since most of us aren’t professionals, we also have full-time jobs. When you throw in spouses, kids, house upkeep, neighborhood events and bowling night, there’s never enough hours in the week.
Once area in which many of us shortchange ourselves is sleep. I know, you’ve heard it all before. Get 8 hours of sleep a night. It’s right up there with drink 64 ounces of water a day and floss your teeth, and probably about as widely followed.
However, sleep is when your body rests and repairs itself after those long bricks and interval workouts. Sleep produces human growth hormone (HGH), a key component of post-exercise tissue repair. Many triathletes are chronically sleep-deprived, and it shows in their performance. I may be an outlier, but I feel that each extra hour of exercise a day causes me to need an additional 15-30 minutes of sleep.
Getting adequate sleep is not negotiable for triathletes. Training in a sleep-deprived state is not something you can grit your teeth and bear through, and it’s not something to be proud of. I’ve never understood the water-cooler bragging talk where someone will proudly state that they only got four hours of sleep last night. They have to feel terrible! Why is that something to be proud of?
Try these tips to improve your sleep quality and jumpstart your training process:
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine within 4 hours of going to bed. Everybody knows that caffeine can keep you up at night, but some people think a “nightcap” glass of wine or beer helps them sleep better. I’m sorry to tell you that’s not true. Alcohol is a depressant, so you may fall asleep quicker, but once the effects of the alcohol wear off, your body “powers back up” again, causing restless sleep or even midnight insomnia. I know that if I drink before bed, I will fall asleep quickly but then tend to wake up about 3:00 a.m. and lay there, not being able to go back to sleep.
- Give your body time to digest. Don’t eat a large meal within two hours of going to bed.
- Keep your bedroom a safe space. Beds are for sleeping and…you know…only. Don’t watch TV or surf on your laptop in bed. Train your mind to equate getting in bed with going to sleep.
- Speaking of laptops, if at all possible, avoid blue light produced by electronics in the few hours before bed. Some cell phones have a blue light filter for nighttime, and the Windows software f.lux automatically changes your monitor settings based on the time of day.
- If jet-lagged or out of whack after a sudden shift in sleep patters, try taking a melatonin capsule 30 minutes before going to bed. (Some doctors advise not to take one every night.)
- Take naps! I know this isn’t possible during the workweek with a 9-5 job, but a 30-minute Saturday nap after my weekend brick leaves me feeling refreshed and renewed.