Sleep

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Sleep is so important to our heath for a variety of reasons, but I’ve often found that people who train a lot tend to struggle getting to sleep. staying asleep and feeling like they have had a good quality sleep on a regular basis.

I recently did a podcast in relation to this topic where i delve into a bit more depth into some practical solutions for dealing with this.

Heather’s Podcast

 

Sleep Struggles

Recently I traveled to Scotland from Manchester twice in four days.  14 hours on trains in total with two 3am wake ups.  In between I was obviously in Scotland for specific events so was busy all day meaning I got very little rest across the week.  That week I didn’t train.  Now to be transparent I had also been ill in the run up to these trips and was still poorly during them so the travelling in itself wasn’t the only reason for my lack of training – one day I really could barely move so wouldn’t have been able to train regardless!  Had I been healthy however I can say with confidence that I probably still wouldn’t have trained because across the week these two journeys meant I didn’t get as much sleep as normal, my sleep patterns were disrupted and the travel made me more fatigued than normal.

Disrupted sleep patterns and lack of sleep over time can affect your training regime.

Chances are when you’re tired (to be differentiated with fatigued because you are ill) you will still manage to get through work and all the absolute essential tasks but training will often be one of the first things to be dropped.  If you do manage to get to the gym the chances of a positive training session are less likely.

Enough sleep and a regular sleep routine are essential to a strong training routine.

Studies with groups of athletes have found that when test subjects increased the amount of sleep they had over a three week period the subjects saw marked improvement in performance (speed for example), endurance levels, lower heartrates during exercise and a reported feeling of having had a better workout.

If you flip this study it is reasonable to conclude therefore that lack of, or poor quality seep could have the opposite effect.  If nothing else having less energy is likely to mean you have less to give when your train and so have a lower intensity workout.

In addition rest allows your body time to recover from workouts and aids muscle repair and growth.  A lack of sleep has also been found to be linked with increased cravings and increased appetite therefore your diet may be start to be affected by poor sleep patterns over a long period of time.

Some weeks a disrupted sleep pattern can’t be helped and short term a week of less sleep will have limited impact on you and your training but it’s useful to be have good habits most of the time  surrounding your sleep (Doctors call this sleep hygiene).

Try to go to bed around the same time every night / wake up at the same time each morning

Studies suggest that having a regular bed time ad wake up time assist in a good night sleep.

Have a night time routine

A set routine sends signals to your brain that it’s time to start switching off ready for sleep, meaning you may find it easier to get to sleep once you get into bed.

Turn off electronic devices

Not looking at the bright lights of your phone / the TV for about an hour before bed will help your brain wind down ready for sleep.

Track your sleep

There are free apps which will monitor your sleep cycles and help you wake up at the best time within a sleep cycle as close to when you need to get up as possible.  This can make you feel much better rested than a sharp alarm first thing does.

Track your habits

Keeping a track of when you last had coffee before bed, exercised before bed, your mood and then how you slept can help you identify patterns and establish whether a specific action negatively affects your sleep, allowing you to make adjustments to improve your sleep.

Don’t make up for lost sleep

It’s tempting to have a lie in to make up for some short night sleep in the week but this has been shown to make you feel worse longer term.  A nap in the day may be more beneficial than having a long lie in.

Post Marathon Blues

Today’s blog topic is a request (possibly my first ever topic request!) and is focused on the Post Marathon Blues.

This doesn’t just need to apply to marathons, it could equally apply to people who have trained for any big sporting even (half marathon, 10k, big swim or cycle, triathlon, a show, a tournament- anything where all your focus for several months has been working towards being in your peak physical form and at the top of your game for one specific event).

How we feel after an event is not something we tend to focus on.  We put lots of thought into preparing for things and on the day itself and even on the immediate recovery in the hours or days after a physical event.

But many people report feeling a bit down in the weeks after a marathon or other big event.  Words like lost, aimless, flat, down, void, lacking in motivation come up in conversations.  It’s a lot like that feeling you get when you come back from a holiday and the realities of normal life hit you and now because the holiday has been and gone you don’t have anything to look forward to.

This is due to both physical and psychological reasons.

Physically the day itself will probably have left you feeling extremely tired, a cumulative effect of weeks of training hard and the extra effort of the day itself and you may have picked up blisters, bruised toenails and niggles which don’t help make you feel great about yourself.  Your endorphins will have been high during the event and as you settle back into normality this can have an effect of how you feel as you struggle to replicate the high you felt in that moment again.

Mentally, you no longer have the event to focus on and that can leave you feeling like life has no meaning or focus after months of everything you do revolving around training (can’t go out Saturday have a long run on Sunday morning, can’t eat that as I’m in training and so on).  It can make it harder to you to motivate yourself to eat well or train as you no longer have that reason for doing so.  Many of us thrive on routine and having something meaningful to us to work towards and once you reach your goal where do you go from there?

Thankfully, these feelings tend to only last a few weeks and people normally spring back to their normal self but there are things you can do to help yourself feel better in this situation and feel the positivity you probably expected to feel after your big achievement.

Celebrate

Plan to do something nice to celebrate your achievement – a massage, spa break, celebration meal.  Take time to congratulate yourself for what you achieved so it doesn’t feel insignificant now.

Book something nice

Similar to above, you could consider booking a weekend break or holiday- something to focus on that is nice and not exercise.  This is bound to improve your mood

Reflect

Think about what you achieved, all the positives and even what you would have done differently in hindsight.  Think objectively about whether it’s something you would like to repeat or if once was enough.  That way if you choose to train for the same event in the future you know what pitfalls to avoid and if not you know you can confidently say once was enough.  Sometimes reflecting on your feelings can give you more ownership on how you feel and help you both make decisions and manage your emotional responses better.

Recover Properly

Get a sports massage, continue to eat nourishing food (and enough of it) to help the body recover, stretch, get some good quality sleep and take some time to just sit and chill.  Any sporting event which take a toll on your body requires some proper mindful recovery in the days after to help you feel better physically which in turn will help you feel better mentally.

Do some low impact exercise

Don’t feel like you need to be back training he day after.  A week or two off could be exactly what your body needs.  If you feel the urge to exercise though try and stick to low impact options which place less strain on your CNS.  You may want to try some yoga or similar during this time.

Don’t run for a couple of weeks

Similar to above, a couple of weeks not doing the exercise you have just trained hard for can be beneficial, both in allow you to physically recover but also give you that little bit of excitement when you do go back out for that first run after a couple of weeks.

Find a new challenge

After a couple of weeks when your rested and refreshed this could be the time to think about what comes next.  Another run of the same distance, a step up to the next distance (Ultra anyone), maybe looking at trying something new instead.  Setting your next goal will give you a renewed sense of focus.

Above all, don’t stress about feeling a bit blue after a big event.  It’s human nature and being sensible and kind to yourself is the key to letting it subside.

Equally, if you suffer from depression anyway, don’t let the idea of post event blues put you off training for an event.  Research has shown that having something to aim for and the training and self care associated with that training can be beneficial in alleviating the symptoms of depression and as long as you are mindful that you might feel a bit down immediately after the event and have your coping strategies in place this should have a generally positive impact on your mental health.

What’s the hardest thing in the land of fitness?

What’s the hardest thing in the land of fitness?

Working out how to train?

Working out what to eat?

I don’t think so.

For me it’s accepting that you will never be perfect.

You decide to start something – training for an event, looking to drop a dress size, whatever it may be.  You have your plan in place and you’re committed to doing it.  Day one does well, so does day two, then day three something comes up and you can’t eat what you planned or miss a training session and suddenly it all feels like it’s unravelling.  Fast forward a week later and you’ve completely dropped your plan and feel like you need to start again.

It’s so easy to fall into this trap.

It’s why so many people don’t reach the goals they set themselves.

A lot of us are very bad at accepting that one slip up doesn’t really matter.

I’ll admit this is something I’ve always been bad for.  I’d start the week ready to have a totally perfect week and get to Friday upset with myself that it hadn’t happened.

Then I learnt (OK I had drummed into me) that PERFECT DOES NOT EXIST.

BUT.

A couple of not perfect things in an otherwise positive week won’t derail my progress.

Now, I get if you are on show prep or similar and a few days out then a slip up could make a massive difference.  But if you want to feel good on the beach in a couple of month times and go over your calorie goal one day in a week it really isn’t going to matter that much.

As people we tend to focus on the negative over the positive.  So there could be 9 great things about our week and one bad thing and you can almost bet your life we will spend more time thinking about that one negative.

So how do you get the results you want?

You accept that things don’t have to always go to plan for progress to happen.  If in a week you miss one training session but have two really good ones, those two good ones haven’t been cancelled out by missing the third.  If you’ve eaten everything you planned most days but on Tuesday had a cake, that cake hasn’t cancelled out all the nutritious stuff you’ve also fed your body.  If the last month felt really really positive but this week you’ve felt a bit off that doesn’t cancel out last month.

In the same way people say one healthy meal won’t make you slimmer or one exercise session won’t make you fit.  Well nor will the cake make you fat or missing that gym session and going to the pub mean you’re back to square one.

Find your goal. Make your plan. Then stick to it?

Nope.

How about:

Find your goal. Make your plan. Do it as best you can and when life gets in the way don’t start again just keep going and do what you can.

Not as catchy so probably won’t catch on but might mean you’re a little more likely to hit those aims.