Sleep Your Way to Better Performance

Training & Health

03/24/2007| 0 comments
by Chris Carmichael

Sleep Your Way to Better Performance

Here's an experiment in thought: what do you think happens when you look at the reported sleep patterns of a high-powered CEO versus that of an elite athlete?

Here's an experiment in thought: what do you think happens when you look at the reported sleep patterns of a high-powered CEO versus that of an elite athlete? An intriguing dichotomy emerges. The businessman makes a point of bragging about how little sleep he needs to run a large multi-national corporation (he has "more hours" in a day to get more done) while the athlete would point out how much sleep he gets everyday, and talk about his nap after lunch, too (he needs more time for his body to recover from workouts). The only common denominator? Neither complains of fatigue.

For the rest of us - the perpetually exhausted masses trying to balance the stresses of family and work with a recreational fitness or training program - neither the CEO's or the elite athlete's approach to sleep is optimal. What may work best, and we stress the word may, is a hybrid of the two that involves a slightly shorter night of sleep of about 6.5 to 7 hours combined with a 20- to 30-minute nap in the mid-afternoon.

What happens when you sleep?

As soon as you close your eyes, start to empty your mind, and breathe rhythmically, your body's recovery systems go to work to clean up the physiological damage that comes out of the stress of your day - including your workouts. They're busy repairing muscles cells, shoring up bones, and building up your immune system to make you stronger and healthier.

But check this out: the bulk of this bodily recharging actually happens within the first two hours of sleep. This is why some scientists believe that it's best to break your sleep into long naps scattered throughout the day in much the same way that nutritionists promote the idea of eating small snacks all day long instead of a few big meals. This tactic has been successfully employed by everyone from ultra-endurance athletes to long-distance sailors. These people have literally trained themselves to operate on as little as 5 hours of sleep picked up in 1 or 2 hour increments every few hours.

Unfortunately, the world doesn't work on this time schedule. Since we were children, our parents and schools have taught us to equate daylight with activity and darkness with sleep. And speaking frankly, a solid chunk of sleep at night is a lot more appealing than trying to figure out how to find 90 minutes to crash between lunch and a 3 o'clock meeting. That's why we put together the strategy below. It maximizes the restorative benefits of the sleep you get now so that you can wake up feeling refreshed and ready to perform your best.

Tips to better sleep

Don't try to go to sleep between 6 P.M. and 8 P.M. You're fighting a natural biorhythm designed to keep you awake during this time. In the pre-historic era, these hours were when humans had to be on the lookout for predators hunting for dinner.

Try to be asleep between the hours of 10 P.M to 2 A.M., another natural biorhythm period where


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