Newsletter 24 | Sleep and Performance

Our Latest Post on the Blog

If you haven’t already, make sure to check out DDA coach Matt Chatlaong’s latest post about how sleep can impact your performance.  It’s a great read on the long and short-term implications of bad sleep.  Give it a read, your cycling will be better for it!

Personal Experience

Matt’s post got me thinking about my own history with sleep.  Having a one and four year old aside, I’ve always struggled with getting between 7-8 hours of sleep a night, not because falling asleep has been difficult, but because upon waking my mind is racing to get started for the day, regardless of how early it is.

As I’ve talked with more cyclists, I’ve learned this seems to be a common problem with my type A brethren.  Falling asleep is easy, waking up and falling back asleep can be maddeningly difficult.

The Mind Starts Buzzing Early

My wife finds this a bit crazy, but when I wake up, I’m itching to get started for the day.  There are social media accounts to check, news I want to read, and basketball highlights I want to watch.  It could be 2AM or 5AM, whatever the time my mind is buzzing with the same energy.

The problem of course is that starting my day at 2AM is going to leave me exhausted by the afternoon.  Here begins the vicious cycle.  It’s 2AM, I know I need to get back to sleep to support a full day of work, kids, and training, and yet the pressure to get back to sleep makes it impossible to sleep.  Stupid i know.

As the minutes tick by I get angrier.  “I’ve got to fall asleep by 3 or I’m really screwed…3:30…OK maybe by 4 for one additional hour of sleep.  Screw it, I’m just going to get up and work.  Ughhh, I should have just gotten up at 3 and not wasted the time tossing and turning for 2 hours.”  This scenario has always been my greatest “sleep challenge”.

The System

It’s taken a while, but just this year I finally pieced together a system that has resulted in more consistent 7-8 hour nights than any other time in my life, even with two young kids.  Here’s what my system looks like:

  1. This strategy of time management is totally life changing.  In short, I make sure I’ve “downloaded” extra thoughts or ideas before I go to sleep.  This minimizes the chance I’ll wake up with a random task I’m worried about in the middle of the night.
  2. I use a white noise machine sitting right next to my head on my night stand.  I’m a light sleeper and this has helped a ton to soften any extra road or house noise.
  3. I never, ever check my phone, or the time of day, once I’ve gone to sleep.  No visible clocks, nothing.  This makes it impossible to do “sleep math” in the middle of the night.  Is it 2AM, is it 5AM?  Not knowing has helped me sleep better.
  4. This is where it gets a bit elaborate, but bear with me.  If I have a specific wake-up time I’ll use an alarm on my phone, but if my wake-up time is more flexible I use automated lights to give me a signal it’s “late enough” to wake up.  In a practical sense, the lights turn on very dimly in our living room at 5AM.  If I wake up earlier and I can’t see the light under our bedroom door, I try my best to go back to sleep.  If I see the lights are on, I’m up and out of bed.  This gives flexibility to sleep longer if possible while still avoiding “sleep math” that comes from checking the clock and wondering if it’s time to get up.

Whether you implement some of the tips in Matt’s post on falling asleep easier, or come up with your own system for not waking up too early, here’s to getting more sleep for the remainder of the year!

Nate Dunn
Founder/Head Coach
Data Driven Athlete