Login | April 21, 2019

Sleep on it part 2

Pete’s World

Published: April 16, 2018

Last week I talked about the importance of sleep during intense periods of training and racing. Yet sometimes it’s not quite as simple as snagging those extra Z’s. That’s right, sometimes for an athlete in training, sleep can get a bit more complicated. This is because bouts of Intense training can actually predispose an athlete to a variety of issues associated with, of all things, disturbed sleeping patterns.

These issues I’m referring to can include intense physical exertion, extensive training schedules, travel, the pressure to perform well, trying to balance work, family and training, or even working out too close to bedtime. Some or all of these issues might at times, upset that delicate sleep apple cart.

I experienced an occasional sleepless episode during my racing career, and it usually reared its ugly head the night after I finished a big competition or a seriously long and strenuous training workout.

Funny thing is that the narrative was always the same: I’d lie awake in bed, toss and turn, stare at the ceiling reliving my race or workout over and over - despite the fact I was thoroughly beaten down and exhausted. Not only that, but I also felt hotter, as if I was a radiator emitting heat and my heart was beating far faster than its normal resting rate.

I used to call that mysterious situation the “so tired I can’t sleep conundrum.” Today it’s know as Exercise Induced Insomnia (EII). Regardless of what it’s called, it still begs the question: How can an exhausting activity turn you into a jazzed up insomniac come bedtime?

Some argue this malady is the result of over training (and it could be, but insomnia is just one of numerous over training markers), while others believe it’s largely a combination of hormonal responses to training (i.e. cortisol and epinephrine release), in addition to the body’s core temperature not dropping enough to help induce sleep. Such responses can occur when the workout/event is at or above LT pacing, and/or when one performs a workout too close to bedtime.

Since I experienced these occurrences only after super exhausting workouts, I’m sure I fit into the latter hypothesis.

So if you’re also a person who occasionally struggles through a restless night of sleep after an endurance event or an exhausting training session, here are some tips for getting that sleep you so crave at the end of a tough day.

First, and I can’t stress this one enough, sleep in a cool environment. Understand that core and skin temperatures go down when you fall asleep. Therefore a cool sleeping environment helps to facilitate this process.

Despite the fact that normal body temperature can fluctuate plus or minus a whole degree, optimal room temperatures for restful sleep still fall into the 60-70 degree Fahrenheit range - for everyone. You’ll just need to pigeonhole where it is within this range that your “sweet sport” lies.

Second, make a conscious effort to downplay those everyday life stresses. Understand that the stress which build up from job, family issues, car problems, appliance breakdowns, yada, yada, yada, can cause the excretion of more cortisol into your system, which in turn heightens the body's sensitivity to excitatory hormones like epinephrine.

Third, slow down on your use of caffeinated stimulants - both before, during, and after hard training. Fact: Caffeine hinders sleep. Period. And that’s because it stimulates the nervous system, it increases alertness, and it holds sleepiness at bay.

Fourth, don’t poo-poo the cool down process. This includes not only the obvious, rehydration and nutrient replenishment, but it also includes actively bringing your core body temperature down. That can be accomplished by using wet towels, dousing clothing with cool water, ice packs, cool water immersion (showers and baths), and spending time in an air-conditioned room. This cool down process becomes even more important if you’re one of the many people who participate in evening workouts.

And finally, realize that the more fit you are, the better you’ll handle training-related stresses. A higher level of fitness allows one to better absorb stresses before they impact sleep.

Thus, better fitness could actually solve the sleep issue.

Hopefully these tips will enable you to crush your training and racing without experiencing those maddening issues associated with Exercise Induced Insomnia.