I can’t stress the importance of sleep, and it angers me that we live in a society that believes that we need less sleep as we age. Why does this anger me you ask? I believe this is a fundamentally flawed way of thinking. Before you bring out your pitchforks and torches, let me ask you something…
How much sleep did YOU get last night?
This is something I find asking my students a few times a week, who I see as being unrested and tired, when they haven’t been in for training. Most of the time it’s something like 5 to 6 hours of sleep. Does that sound familiar? If it does, PUT DOWN THE COFFEE NOW. You could be doing more harm than good with that extra cup. “But I need it to function” you say. You’ll be eating those words when 11pm rolls around and you are wondering why you can’t fall asleep when you’d like to, to catch up on the sleep you missed the previous night because you were up late working/studying/etc.
“But I just can’t sleep!”
I can think of many times where I find myself reaching for that extra cup of coffee, mid-day, usually towards the middle of the week, because I stayed up the night before to get work done. How often does this happen? A lot more than you might think, and cutting yourself short with only 5-6 hours of sleep a few nights a week actually creates a sleep deficit.
“A sleep deficit?”
Yes, you should be sleeping more. Those few nights a week you stay up and don’t get the rest you need adds up. Why do you think so many people love the weekend but just can’t stand the Monday morning drag? It’s the Monday morning drag that you feel from lack of sleep, you were just beginning to catch up over the weekend.
To be honest, you aren’t just cutting yourself short when creating this sleep deficit, you are putting those around you at risk as well. No offense, but I find it a rather poor decision to continue driving while sleepy because you’ve been staying up for those extra few hours a night to binge on Netflix, study, or whatever else it is you may be doing up at 3am. As a matter of fact, the CDC even has something to say about driving while in sleep deficit. Not to mention an athlete or a professional fighter, these people rely on their bodies to perform their best when competition time arrives. I’ve witnessed many athletes (I’ve seen it countless times first-hand) who were tearing it up in training on Monday/Tuesday, but come Saturday, they are ‘flat’ and don’t perform well. It’s because there is a much ignored factor in the grand scheme of peak performance… Care to guess what it is?
“Healthy Diet & Exercise?”
A healthy diet and exercise are two things that can help you achieve peak performance, and it’s something I hear uttered multiple times a day working in a gym. We are still missing the MAJOR piece to this puzzle: SLEEP. “Healthy Diet, Exercise AND Sleep” You need to sleep, 6-7 hours won’t cut it when you are hitting your training hard. Me personally, when I’m training for a fight, I’ve began making sure I can get 9 hours of sleep. I get flak from other sleep machismo enthusiasts, but I feel my best when I get 9 hours of solid sleep. If you feel good, you’re going to perform good. It’s a similar concept to eating healthy, you wouldn’t put shitty gasoline into your Corvette, would you? So why wouldn’t you change your oil or check your tires either? This is your body here, and you only get ONE. Once I started focusing more on my sleep, I realized how shitty I was actually feeling during training, when it was completely unnecessary. People liken this to “overtraining”, while I do believe that exists, I think it’s for more likely to be improper recovering, which sleep is a big part of.
Underperforming as an athlete when you killed it during training? Look at your sleep schedule, and BE HONEST. Harvard Business Review has a great article on sleep deficit & performance.
“Ok, I believe you, now what?”
I’ll assume you’re already in a sleep deficit, so you can do yourself a favor and get some more sleep tonight. If you’re serious about making some changes and catching up, I think The Harvard School Medical Family Guide has some great advice:
Settle short-term debt. If you missed 10 hours of sleep over the course of a week, add three to four extra sleep hours on the weekend and an extra hour or two per night the following week until you have repaid the debt fully.
Address a long-term debt. Plan a vacation with a light schedule and few obligations. Then, turn off the alarm clock and just sleep every night until you awake naturally.
Avoid backsliding into a new debt cycle. Once you’ve determined how much sleep you really need, factor it into your daily schedule. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day — at the very least, on weekdays.
Also, I suggest staying away from computers, TV, and smart phones for about 30 minutes before your desired sleep time. If staying away from computers or smart phones isn’t an option, I’d highly suggest getting this free piece of software called f.lux installed ASAP. From the f.lux website:
Ever notice how people texting at night have that eerie blue glow?
Or wake up ready to write down the Next Great Idea, and get blinded by your computer screen?
During the day, computer screens look good—they’re designed to look like the sun. But, at 9PM, 10PM, or 3AM, you probably shouldn’t be looking at the sun.
f.lux fixes this: it makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.
It’s even possible that you’re staying up too late because of your computer. You could use f.lux because it makes you sleep better, or you could just use it just because it makes your computer look better.
There are many sleep studies showing that blue spectrum light will wreak havoc on your sleep pattern when exposed to it before/during sleep. I’ve been using f.lux for a while now and it seems to help with my late-night computer binges, even while watching Netflix.