Recharging the Battery



The other night I went to bed early, well, early for me, and proceeded to stay in bed for the next 11 straight hours (about 10.5 of that was actual sleep). Not surprisingly, I woke up the next morning extremely well rested. Back in January I tracked my sleep for several weeks in relation to the idea of Sleep Banking -- where you can make up for lost sleep by sleeping more on another day. My conclusion from that self-experiment was that sleep banking didn't really work for me. Sleeping more on one day makes you feel good on that particular day. But, the next day when you're back to sleeping 6 hours again, you're tired. The best piece of data I found out about myself is that 9 hours of sleep per night is my sweet spot. I need to get at least that amount to feel rested.

I also tinkered with biphasic sleep (also known as polyphasic), meaning sleeping twice (or more than once) in one day (i.e. 6 hours of sleep at night and a 1.5 hour nap at some other point in the day). Biphasic sleep is a great concept but not at all practical. On days when I could get a nap in, the duration would range from 10 minutes to two hours. Most of the time it tended to be under one hour.

Sleep cycles last for 90-110 minutes, on average. Ideally you want a total number of hours per night that is a multiple of 90 minutes (1.5 hours). We always hear about getting 8 hours of sleep, which would actually be wrong according to your sleep intervals. 7.5 hours would leave you feeling more rested than 8 hours of sleep.

On the night of the epic sleep I was listening to the Underground Wellness podcast from 2/18/11 with guest T.S. Wiley -- author of Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival. This is one of those books that is always recommended in the Crossfit community but that I haven't gotten around to reading yet. Interesting side note on T.S. Wiley: she did not complete her bachelors in anthropology from Webster University, let alone any advanced degrees. Her book is co-written with Bent Formby, PhD (great name), who has received two doctoral degrees (molecular biology and medical biochemistry) and is a legitimate scientist. Wiley is simply a researcher and the findings of her research and work in the field are the basis of her books. So what if she didn't finish college. At a certain point, experience trumps formal education. I digress.

Prior to the start of the podcast I took some melatonin (Trader Joe's brand), which may have added to my sleepiness. I made it about 12 minutes into the podcast, and with all of this talk about sleep and dark hours vs. light hours in a day, I got sleepy and decided to call it a night. My stomach was a little upset from drinking too much coconut milk at one time, and sleep was probably a good idea. When I finally got up 11 hours later, I felt overly rested. I wasn't popping out of bed and doing back handsprings, but I definitely felt better than I usually do in the morning.

Going forward, how do I recreate this? I don't need (or think it's practical) to sleep as long as I did that night, but I'd like to get a solid 9 hours if possible. The biggest hurdle in the way of getting enough sleep is that my wife and I work out in the mornings. On those days, we're up at 4:30 to make the 5:30 class. On the nights before those early morning workouts, I'm lucky to get 6 hours of sleep. The only way to make that work is to either do biphasic sleep on gym days and try and get a nap in somewhere, or do a Recharge Day once a week and try and sleep as much as possible on that one day. Or a combo of the two. I'm not much of a napper, so the recharge day seems more applicable to me. But a recharge day is just a sleep banking day, which I already determined didn't work. Ultimately, I need to train my body to go to bed earlier. That's easier said than done. I guess it's time to turn off the lights.

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