Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Structure of Sleep

‘To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause’
~ Hamlet.

My Coach advises me to sleep at least 8 hours a day. This being a new work-year, it is certainly going to be challenging to catch on so much 'shut-eye'. Yet, with eight weeks to go before my next Ironman, sleep is an essential component of my potential success. Sleep equals recovery equals tissue and cellular repair equals healing. Healing leads to adaptation: stronger muscular development and, thus, performance. Sleep also encourages healthy brain functioning, so we ward off debilitating mental conditions like depression, lethargy and malaise.

Our brain works in amazing ways! It has been, incorrectly, described as right-brained or left-brained. Technically, we have two hemispheres or halves of the brain joined by a bridge called the corpus callosum. Thus, we are whole brain with a preference or dominant side that expresses us differently as thinkers. There are numerous crossover activities that traverse across this conduit to enhance mutual collaboration. That explains why Leonardo Da Vinci was a scientist, inventor and artist.

If you are short of sleep, you can still ‘cheat’ for a short while and stay alert while training or functioning normally. Since the sleep cycle takes place every 90 minutes, with alternating periods (30 minutes) of light sleep with deep sleep/REM (Rapid Eye Moment) – sleep in pockets of 90 minutes or 1.5 hours. That is 1.5, 3, 4.5, 6, 7.5 or 9 hours. 8 hours is just within light sleep (nap) whereas exceeding the 8-hour threshold will lead to a disorientating awakening. That is why we tend to sleep through the screaming ‘alarm clock’.

You cannot cheat on sleep, nor pay it back. Induce sleep normally and naturally. Avoid medication that causes drowsiness. Instead you can use melatonin to stimulate sleep neurotransmitters in your brain, especially if you are traveling for business or a race, across significant time-zones. Sleep well, for it spells great dividends when we train hard.

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