One of the most important parts of our lives is recovery. Yes, this is particularly important as an athlete, but it’s not only athletes that need rest. If you are on the daily 9 – 5 grind, you need rest too! Growing up, my mom and dad were always big advocates of sleep. My brother and I were in bed at 8pm every night of the week until we were about 12. At 13 when the bed time “rule” lost its place a little, not a lot changed, it might not have been 8pm every night all the way through high school but it was very seldom later than 9 or 9.30. A lot of you that know me, know that not a lot has changed. I’m still in bed every night at about 9.30, any later than that and I do not feel good at all the next day. There is a reason for this though. I am not old enough to be a grandfather and I do not belong in a retirement village, so why go to bed so early?

Penny Heyns

I’m not sure where I heard this story, I may have read it in her biography or may have been told the story by my South African coach, Ryan Skinner, but here is a story about Olympian and Gold Medalist Penny Heyns that relates to sleep. Apparently, in her first three years at the University of Nebraska Penny trained as hard as she could, spending many hours working out and developing her skills in the pool with good success at the college level. Going into her senior year however she changed just one thing. The amount of sleep she was getting. Doing the same thing in the pool, with the same coach, living on the same schedule as she had previously, Penny went from good performances on the college stage to setting 14 world records and becoming the first woman in history to sweep both the 100 and 200 Breastroke Gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games… She did the same thing in the pool, she just slept more, recovered better and good things started to happen. Now I am not 100% sure about the accuracy of the story. Penny may have made other changes, there may be more to it, it may have just been her time, but I think I believe that the amount of sleep she was getting had a large part to play in her success… That’s enough for me. I don’t think I need any more information or motivation to get back into bed! If you do, here is some science…

According to Dr Nicholas Sita “Everyone needs 7 to 10 hours sleep. Children (ages 1 – 10) require at least 10 hours, Adolescents (ages 11 – 22) need an average of 9.25 hours, and adults (23+ years) require 8.25 hours of sleep, on average, each night”. Now, I am in a statistics class this semester, and although my attention level is not always at it’s highest I have learned that there are averages and people will deviate from those averages blah blah blah. Fair enough. But how wrong would I be if I said that I think more adults get less than 8 hours and 15 mins sleep a night than those that do? I know that very few Adolescents get 9 hours and 15 minutes sleep a night. Dr Sita’s research suggests that “only fifteen percent of American adolescents report getting 8 or more hours of sleep. Therefore, 85% of American adolescents are operating at a sleep deficit. The average American adolescent is operating at about a 25 hour deficit.”

Now here is what I found interesting… At a 19 hour sleep deficit, athletes perform on cognitive and coordination tests, worst than someone with a .08 blood alcohol level. Just in case you don’t know what that means, a .08 blood alcohol level is legally drunk in every country in Europe and in 42 American states. If my Olympic winning, world  record breaking story didn’t give you a reason to get to bed earlier or take a nap during the day, maybe those numbers will!

I think the biggest excuse I hear about not getting enough sleep is “I don’t have time”. If you can look at yourself in the mirror and honestly say that you don’t feel like you could watch one less hour of TV a week, or spend 30 minutes less surfing the web, or procrastinate a little less about starting something, then your life must be scheduled to the max and you may need to chill out a little. Haha, but seriously, I think that most of us can find a at least an hour in our day that we waste and could use on some extra sleep.

Sometimes I make sure I get to bed on time but the sleep thing doesn’t exactly happen as fast as I would like it to. I lay there, tossing and turning and getting more and more worked up. I have tried most of the popular advice out there about how to fall asleep, I know my flock is too big when I get to 4678 sheep. Last year Ashely “Training Partner” Lecoq (remember her? Check here) introduced me to a natural sleep inducer that I find kills sheep faster than a slaughter house, called Melatonin. Many studies have been done on melatonin’s effects on the sleep cycle, most of these studies have shown positive results. People experience very few negative side-effects and have found themselves in a better mood because they were well rested. I really like the stuff. If you have trouble sleeping at night try it out.

Alright, too much sleep talk. I need some. I would hate to show up to my 8am class in the morning “cognitively drunk”. Heaven forbid! Before I go, I am now writing for a website called Swim Utopia. Check it out, it’s a new site, but is growing quickly and I have a feeling it will be the next big swimming information site. Alright, Ten Four. Over and Out