Sleep Is The Biggest Piece Missing From Your Training

This post was published on April 7 2010 while on my journey to South African Olympic Trials and the 2012 Olympic team.

If you were already maximizing your training time, what’s the #1 thing you’d want to add to your day to get faster & stronger?

The answer is sleep. And you should be getting more of it.


Growing up, my mom and dad pushed the sleep message hard. My brother and I were in bed at 8pm every night of the week until we were 12 years old.

At 13 the bed time “rule” lost its place a little. But not much changed. Bed time might not have been 8pm every night through high school but it was very seldom later than 9.30.

A lot of you that know me, know that is still the case today. I’m still in bed every night at about 9.30 (2018 edit, yep still going to bed at 9.30). I don’t live in a retirement home, so what’s the reason for the early bed time?

I can answer that with a story about double Olympic Gold medalist Penny Heynes and her sleep. The story goes… in her first three years at the University of Nebraska Penny trained hard. She spent hours working out and refining her skills in the pool. As a result she enjoyed good success at the college level.

Going into her senior year she wanted to take her performance to the next level. To do that, she didn’t train harder. She changed 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 training as she did in previous years. She 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 been her time. But I believe that the amount of sleep she was getting had a large part to play in her success.

I don’t need any more information or motivation to get back into bed! If you do, here is some science…

The Statistics On Sleep

According to Dr Nicholas Sita “Everyone needs 7 to 10 hours sleep on average, each night… only fifteen percent of Americans report getting 8 or more hours of sleep. 85% of American are operating at about a 25 hour deficit.”

Now here is what I found interesting…

A different study showed that effects of cumulative sleep deficit. At a 19 hour deficit, cognitive and coordination is worse than someone with a .08 blood alcohol level. A .08 blood alcohol level is legally drunk in every country in Europe and in 42 American states. That’s crazy.

The biggest excuse I hear about not getting enough sleep is “I don’t have time”. Bullshit. What you mean to say is, it’s not a high enough priority.

Watch one less hour of TV a week. Spend 30 minutes less scrolling through Instagram and Facebook. Stop procrastinating. Most of us can find at least an hour in our day that we waste and could use on some extra sleep.

There are some nights where getting to bed on time is no problem, but falling asleep is a struggle. There are three supplements I use to help me go lights out as soon as my head hits the pillow.

1. Magnesium

Magnesium relieves insomnia by decreasing cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can keep you up all night.

2. Gabba

Gabba is a neurotransmitter that can slows down nerve activity. Otherwise healthy people that suffer from insomnia register reduced levels of GABA. Supplementing your diet with Gabba before bed can help get you to sleep quicker.

3. Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone made naturally in your body. It’s job is to let your body know that it’s bed time so you can relax and fall asleep easier. I’ve found it to be super helpful in getting me to sleep quicker.

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!

You might also like...

4 thoughts on “Sleep Is The Biggest Piece Missing From Your Training”

  1. Rory, indeed I was looking for that elusive sleep this week, and without it I was not the same. Besides Melatonin, try reading the Bible, I have never seen people fall asleep so quickly. Of course the other elusive “enemy” is responsible for this process I am sure, but at least you go to sleep with God on your mind.

  2. great post, I think sleep is a very unrated aspect of recovery alot of athletes skimp on. I love sleep so I try not too 😉 The Lady who won gold in the last olympic s for marathon , sleeps 10-12 hrs a night! a little overkill for many but shows how important it is. A tidbit I learned a few years back, if you have 1-2 drinks within 2 hrs of sleeping, this messes up your rhythm so that most of you “sleep” you never really get to REM, damn psyc class..

  3. Pingback: Rejuvenation, Training and the Tri Cities Swim Meet « Rory Buck

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *