The importance of sleep

I compromise on sleep…
I do it and unfortunately I do it often…

How do I feel about it? Not good to be very honest…

Why do I keep doing it? I guess that’s the real question, isn’t it?

We all want to live our lives to the maximum extent possible. Days are not long enough, 24 hours are insufficient for our busy routines, to thrive in our daily jobs, to be there for our families, to appreciate moments of joy with friends, to pursue our athletic goals or even just to sit down and relax. Modern life is constantly defying us with stimuli, arousing desire for more, creating temporal challenges when our time is already so limited.

We so often feel we don’t have time… but is that really the case?

To attain the goals we’ve set in our lives we aspire to have the power that sets us in control. Materials are typically the easiest to get a grasp or even to unconsciously think about, the perfect example being money. We’re confident that with it we’re able to buy the goods we need to pursue our dreams: the house, the car, the travel arrangements, the new electronic gadget, the latest sports gear… Alternatively we buy time, eluding us into the perception that the existence of money will give us the mental rest that we don’t have to work because we’re covered, we can bear the monthly expenses, we can feed ourselves, we can maintain the spends of our way of life.

"Rest your head" CC image courtesy of Jason Trbovich on Flickr

“Rest your head” CC image courtesy of Jason Trbovich on Flickr

A quote I love from Damon Brown calls our attention to «remember that money can come as quickly as it goes, but time, once it is gone, never comes back». Makes us think about the intangible doesn’t it? We’re often so careful on how to spend our money but as often not so mindful on how to spend our time. Where. With what. How much. With whom.

The common analogy that time is money reminds me of In Time, a nice movie I saw some years back which does the expression justice. Money was indeed time and each character had time individually tracked as a material resource. They’d get their wage as time. They could buy things with time. Each living moment was a consumption of time. And time was by definition finite. The less you spend, the less you live. Think about it… the storyline introduced a thought dynamic where each life decision was tied to a single currency, where personal time was always on the balance and had to be used as efficiently as possible. The movie can be considered a blockbuster, for sure, yet the concepts behind it, the parallelism to our world and the amount of interesting quotes it has, makes it fundamentally a very interesting film to watch.

Is the fictional world therein depicted so different from our reality?
We don’t really know how much time each of us has in this place… but we can fairly assume, can’t we?
Do we really have so much that we dare to waste it?

Thinking of time as a currency does present an interesting dichotomy when we think of sleep. On one hand we want to live our lives fully, to have as much experiences as possible in periods we’re awake, to maximise the amount of joy we can make out of it and ultimately fill it with as many things we love as possible. On the other hand the intervals we use to sleep take time away from that ever constant optimisation exercise to maximise our days, de facto making days shorter. We need to rest however! Numerous studies show that children should have 11 hours of sleep – which I faithfully comply in the case of my kids, in the same manner my parents did with me – and adults an average of 8 hours. The latter changes slightly as we go of age yet I like the rule of thumb that 8 hours is just about the right figure.

As we glide through life, we live and we learn. That sleep is fundamental, is a personal conclusion of the past already. In my early days at university, in the Instituto Superior Técnico engineering school, at the heart of Lisbon, life was very busy with studying, assignments and commute. In Portugal‘s vibrant capital, abundant in its lively atmosphere with all sorts of offers to capture our attention on anything other than studies, the demands of the graduation had me and my colleagues on a tight leash.

One particular vivid memory I have is from the period we worked and lived during the night, to be able to dedicate all our focus on the final thesis in the last year of the course. We did it to avoid all sort of interruptions. The city goes silent. Friends don’t pop by. TV is boring. Meals are fast. All these things are hard to acknowledge but truly effective when you need to get something done. There’s total immersion and absence from distraction. Modus operandi was simple: wake-up at 20h, breakfast, work, quick-lunch at 4h, work, break at 8h, work, dinner at 12h, go to sleep at some point in time between 14h an 16h. Repeat! For a year!!!

The model was obviously not sustainable on the long run and once the work was done we were knackered… Lessons learned are that sleep deprivation has impact not only on the brain but on the body as well. I promised myself back then, that from that moment on, I’d be having proper sleep in order to keep happiness close by and to simply stay healthy. Something which worked very well for a long time but that has been hard to keep lately…

Fast forward to today… I’m concerned with the amount of sleep I’m having. Or perhaps… the amount of sleep I’m not having. What is the impact it has in my daily routines? How does it affect my behaviour, the way I interact with others and in particular with my loved ones? Which influence does it bring to the fun factor and ultimately sports performance?

Startup company Casper, operating under the motto “better sleep makes for better living”, started their business with their unique mattress design. Together with sheets and pillows they’ve built the perfect ecosystem for providing their customers an impeccable night’s sleep. In an athletes’ targeted study, they’ve consolidated the baseline a sportsman should have in mind, the impacts he may expect when deviating from it and a few tips on how to get back on track. The infographic below shows a nice visual summary of key findings.

Casper: sleep and sports

Casper: sleep and sports

Interesting to realise that the 8 hours ballpark figure most adults have in mind (I raise my hand!) isn’t really appropriate, right? Specially when practising intensive sports such as I do with my trail running lunacy!

I’m able to fairly manage sleep during the week, as training is done usually during lunch time and evenings are filled with personal tasks “only”. Sleep deprivation may accumulate slightly as the week goes by but when getting to the weekend I pretty much blow the whole scale up. To avoid impact on family activities, I love doing my Sunday trainings early in the morning, in such manner that I’m typically back at home for joint breakfast. In most cases this means waking up around 4 AM or 5 AM, driving 30 min to a location where I can do a long run with elevation and then reverse back into the daily routine of “normal people” 😉

I do it for my loved ones as I know they relish having me around for whatever is planned on Sunday.
I do it for myself as I truly love spending time with them and participate on whatever is planned on Sunday.

Even though that feels extremely good, with the day getting really long and with the added benefit of having the body loaded with endorphins (rock on natural sports hormones!), when the evening arrives I truly feel the impact of the early morning stretch…

Impacts on body and mind? I keep exploring them and assessing how to avoid them, in a continuous battle to adapt my daily habits and the way sport gets into them.

Life is made of learnings and change ultimately brings enthusiasm into it…

While I keep iterating… how do you manage sleep? How do you blend it with your sports life? What are the impacts sleep deprivation bring into your life and how are you turning those around? The comments section is just below for you to share your personal experience.

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