Are you aware of sleep? I ask after having stumbled upon the existence of National Sleep Awareness Week, coming March 1-8.

Now I suppose in some sense it would be shocking if there weren't a National Sleep Awareness Week. There's a week for everything, you know. In fact, directly preceding sleep's big week? National Invasive Weed Awareness Week. Brain Awareness Week follows just a week after sleep, by the way.

But back to sleep: They say it's the new sex. (Really. ABC News reported, "Sleep is the new sex, according to a new investigation by Forbes magazine.") It's the thing everyone wants and can't get enough of. Why? We're too busy. Why? We need to watch the new episodes and the reruns of Two and a Half Men. The burden.

So if sleep is a challenge for the average lard-assed American, what does that make it for endurance athletes? Granted, we watch less TV, and spend very little time vexed by those God damned hard to open Cheetos bags. But we are putting in long hours swimming, biking and running. If Joe Blow is longing for more sleep, how does Joe Endurance see sweet slumber? As the Holy Grail?

Yeah, pretty much.

I know I dream—metaphorically speaking—all the time about getting more sleep. And all I'm asking for is seven hours a night. Because the truth is if I averaged seven a night, that would be a big improvement over the current state of affairs.

One problem is that it's very difficult to fully appreciate the link between sleep and athletic performance, despite all the stories that say poor sleep leads to more colds, more heat attacks, dental decay and follicullitis. (I made that last one up.) Heck, if I could PR Boston after just two or three hours of sleep, how vital is it, really? And yet it seems that people with serious money invested in athletic outcomes are jumping aboard the sleep train. I was impressed the other day by a story in the Portland Trail Blazer News, I mean the Oregonian, about the team's new approach to sleep. They've hired an expert from Harvard to advise them on how best to schedule their travel and practices in order to allow their multimillion-dollar hands to get the shuteye they need to be deadeyes on the court. The sleep doc says getting better sleep can improve athletic performance by up to 20 percent. For the Blazers, the guys are into it and the team's road record is improved.

Accepting the importance of sleep is a great first step; but how to get it? For me, the tendency has always been to try to find specific activities to drop from my life, pleasures to jettison. But the more I think about it, the more I think that's a trap. Something theoretical and off in the vague future, like the benefit of good sleep, doesn't stand a chance against things you love to do now. So getting more sleep can't be about saying blogging has to go, or about banning reading tri blogs in the evening. Getting more sleep is simply about saying, I’m getting up at 5:15 tomorrow morning for a bike ride. It's 9:56 p.m. Dang, it's time to hit the hay. And then following through. Yep, as with everything tri-related, it's all about following through.

Good night.


  1. Many of the people I know who do serious endurance sports report that they have trouble sleeping the night before an event. People say they're keyed up; brain and sleep researchers (if they haven't gotten around to studying this already) might find that the brain is having a hard time shutting down because of all the processing we're doing about the race/ride/run they're focusing on. But my guess is the effect of losing one night's sound sleep is tiny than losing that night's sleep in the context of being chronically short of sleep. In fact, if you manage to build a life that affords you regularly healthy sleep, you could anticipate that night-before activity and turn it into part of your training or event -- instead of going to bed to sleep, go to bed to relax or meditate or whatever. That might get you off the mental starting line long enough to actually get some rest, if not sleep.

  2. I think there's something to what you say, Dan. At IMCDA last year I went to bed putting much less pressure on myself to fall asleep quickly -- in large part because I knew from my Boston experience that at that point, it just wasn't that important. And of course, the result was that I fell asleep much quicker, within about a half-hour (vs. four hours after going to bed in Boston!).

    Another thing: I'm often worried about oversleeping. You know, like Jean-Paul in that Seinfeld episode...

    Jerry: (pause) So what happened? The snooze alarm, wasn't it?

    Jean-Paul: Man, it wasn't the snooze. Most people think it was the snooze, but no, no snooze.

    Jerry: AM/PM.

    Jean-Paul: Man, it wasn't the AM/PM. It was the volume.

    Jerry: Ah...the volume.

    Jean-Paul: Yes, the volume. There was a separate knob for the radio alarm.

    Jerry: Ah, separate knob.

    Jean-Paul: Yes, separate knob. Why separate knob?! Why separate knob?! (frustrated)

    Jerry: Some people like to have the radio alarm a little louder than the radio.

    Jean-Paul: Oh, please, man, please!

    So I'm so worried that I won't wake up in time, I have a hard time falling asleep, and then I wake up constantly, wondering if it's time to get up yet.

    But, yeah, the big issue is getting good regular sleep. I'm working hard to convince myself that IT IS IN REACH. And last night, for instance, I did better. I only got 6 1/2 hours, but considering I was up at 5:30 a.m. this morning, that's pretty good.