I’m what you’d call a night owl. I like to stay up late. I always chalked it up to being a creative person and it always seemed that my creative juices starting flowing after 9pm — seeing midnight 1am, 2am — many, many nights when I was working on a design deadline, squeezing in a night run, or catching up on training techniques. Even during big training blocks, my head still never hit the pillow before midnight. So, I rolled with this until I hit my 40s. I noticed I wasn’t bouncing back like I used to. I didn’t seem to be as alert, so I increasingly turned to caffeine. It worked for a time. Then, a few years ago, during a particular busy design week coupled with a high volume running week, I found the day’s third cappuccino gave me heart palpitations. I’d never experienced those before and it freaked me out.
I started to dig into the importance of sleep and going to bed earlier. The earlier bedtime and less caffeine got rid of the palpitations. And, as I dug into the sleep subject I learned more about our natural circadian rhythms of night and day and how our internal system can get confused when artificial light is introduced too late into the evening. I quit staring at a screen after 9pm (well, at least most of the time). I turned the lights low and set aside time to read before bed. I went to bed before midnight. I had more patience with my kids. I seemed to be a better dad, husband and runner for it.
Here’s the thing — sleep is essential for support of our neurological performance, endocrine balance, immune system function, and musculoskeletal growth and repair. Sleep encourages the release of human growth hormone (HGH), an key component in cellular regeneration. Solid sleep enhances memory performance and creative problem solving, helps you focus on the positive and the Big One for athletes — boost your athletic performance, including speed, accuracy, mood and overall energy. An important aspect for all of us trying to train consistently: Less chance of getting sick and injured! Yep, your immune system is most active during sleep. No matter what, it’s clear. Athletes need to get a solid night of shut-eye.