{Guest Post} Crazy Sleep Patterns: Is 8 Hours Really Necessary?

25 08 2011

Hello 321delish readers. Today we have a special guest post from Jason Bahamundi, a successful runner and triathlete, Ironman in the making and one of the most knowledgeable individuals I know regarding endurance sports and nutrition.

He blogs over at Cook Train Eat Race and we are excited to have him make a guest appearance on 321delish today.

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Sleep…Is 8 Hours Really Necessary?

Before I delve into the topic of sleep and more specifically sleep for the endurance athlete I want to thank Chloe for asking me to write this guest post.  I am truly honored to be featured on 321Delish.com as both Steph and Chloe are terrific people who put out great information. So now…onto my post!

Is 8 hours really necessary?  Maybe more or maybe less?  Why am I even approaching this topic you might be asking yourself, so let me give you a little bit of background about me.

I take my training and racing seriously.  I am focused on becoming a better triathlete on a daily basis and it was through this that I started to wake up at 3am to eat breakfast and drink some coffee then fall back asleep for an hour prior to training around 5am.

When I talk about the 3am wake up call I typically get a response of:  You are crazy! (You’re thinking the same thing right now aren’t you?)  Or the other response I get and typically through Twitter is:  Do you EVER sleep? (Yes, I do and I sleep as much as the next person I just have a different pattern.)

My patter consists of resting (and I mean purely resting on the couch) starting around 8pm and not moving.  My body is in a state of relaxation and is recovering from the morning workout and day full of work activities.  I get in bed by 9pm and begin to fall asleep around 930p (If I haven’t fallen asleep on the couch already – told you I am in a state of complete relaxation.)  I then wake up at 3am and eat, drink and tweet and fall back asleep between 330a and 345a.  I then wake up at 445a and am out the door to start my training by 5a.

So you can see from this scenario that I sleep anywhere from 7 hours to 8 hours, I just don’t get it the way most people do and I bet that I probably get more than most people.

I have read articles from back in 2007 that there was no direct study linking sleep to athletic performance but just extrapolations.  Obviously this would do us no good because you cannot extrapolate the damage that an endurance athlete does to their body during their training cycle compared to the average person who is exercising for 5-6 hours and probably not at the intensity level of marathon or triathlon training.

Since 2007 there have been other studies done and the most recent one I found included testing young males (18-27) based on three different sleep cycles.  They were asked to sleep for 8 hours in one week, then 4 hours in another and finally 12 hours in another.  The 4 hours was the sleep deprivation cycle and was used to compare against the other two cycles.

The interesting part of this study, for me, is that the sleep deprivation was linked to metabolizing glucose less efficiently in addition to the fact that levels of cortisol were higher.

The glucose levels for the group were no longer normal during the sleep deprivation week and resembled those found in the elderly.  Since we know that glucose and glycogen (stored glucose) are the energy sources behind the ability of an endurance athlete to perform one can conclude that getting enough sleep is very important.

What the study doesn’t address is how much sleep is enough?  I don’t know that getting 8 hours is perfect but I do know that getting 4 hours is not enough and not just because of the glycogen stores, but because your mind is not in the game.

You have a tendency to lose focus with sleep deprivation and this is caused by the increase in cortisol.  If your mind is not focused then the task at hand is going to be more and more difficult to perform.  Think about your best race and how well you slept the night before and think about your worst race and how you slept the night before.

I am comfortable with the amount of sleep that I get because I very rarely feel tired during the day and so for me my schedule works.  You may need 8 or 10 or 12 hours of sleep to get your performance to be at its peak.  Just like eating and training there are going to be different responses for everybody but there are rules of thumb and I will go out on a limb and say you should sleep more than 4 hours per night.

Question of the Day: How much sleep do you get?  Do you nap?  Do you feel more hungry on days when you do not sleep well?

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5 responses

25 08 2011
Victoria (District Chocoholic)

I think a good test for “am I getting enough sleep” is how often you wake up before your alarm…if you wake up before your alarm, you’ve gotten enough rest. I sleep 4.5-6 hours most nights, and my alarm clock MIGHT go off 10 times a year. Tops.

25 08 2011
katie

awesome post! as i’ve gotten older, i’ve landed more in the 8-9 hour range….otherwise boy am I cranky!

25 08 2011
sarah

I love sleep .. it’s my favorite!!! I usually have to have 8 horus of sleep or else I can’t function normally. I like to be in bed by 10 at the latest. I’m such an old lady. And if I can sneak in a nap after work for 45 minutes that is the best.

25 08 2011
Allison

Really interesting post. I feel like I do best with 8-9 hours of sleep, 7 minimum, but I’ve never thought about breaking it up in order to eat and digest pre-workout. I’m also impressed that Victoria hardly ever needs an alarm clock. Even when I feel well rested, I still don’t seem to naturally wake up before 6 or 6:30.

25 08 2011
Jason @ Cook Train Eat Race

I am in Victoria’s camp with her comment. I have my alarm set for 3am and can be found looking at the clock at 2:30a and thinking sweet I have another 15-30 minutes of rest.

I also think that rest is the key. You don’t have to be asleep to be relaxing and recovering. Laying down and being in a state of total relaxation (one where you aren’t thinking about what needs to be done or what you did or didn’t do) is just as good.

Lastly, when we discuss naps remember that a nap should be 30-45 minutes tops. If it is longer than that then you did not get enough sleep the night before. The only time this may go out the window is on high intense training days where you are dehydrated, but I will say that when I raced 70.3 Oceanside in April I did not take a nap afterwards. I was up and ready to rock and roll.

Chloe – thank you for asking me to guest post for you. It was a pleasure and do not hesitate to ask me again.

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