One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year is to spend less time on social media and read more books. I thought I’d start with an easy win, by finishing the last chapter of “why we sleep”. This is a good book for anyone interested in sleep and recovery, and how to make the most of it.
I’m often asked about how athletes can improve their recovery from hard training sessions. We’ve talked previously about a few things you can do to help yourself stay injury free. However, sleep is one of the most underrated training tools in your arsenal.
This book is an excellent, and surprisingly easy, read. Some of the material I already knew, but there were a few surprises. The idea that “sleep is for the weak” is still all too prevalent in some circles, and there are still coaches who promote early morning runs or gym sessions as a way to build (and prove) mental toughness. Although doing your roadwork in the dark and the rain at 5am is undoubtedly a sign of commitment, it’s not necessarily great for your overall performance. Especially if you didn’t get back from last night’s training session until 10pm.
I often emphasise to athletes I work with that sleep is a fantastic, cheap and easy way to improve performance and recovery. This is backed up by this book.
Some key take away points from “why we sleep”:
- Sleep is one of the most effective ways to improve mental and physical health. A good night’s sleep substantially reduces your risk of catching a cold after being exposed to the virus, for example.
- There are some surprisingly strong links between sleep and both mental and physical performance.
- Sleep is crucial for your ability to learn skills from practice. The time you put into training is likely to be much more effective if you’re sleeping well before and afterwards.
- Having a regular sleep schedule is the single best way to improve sleep quality. You can’t fully “catch up” on lost sleep, and sleeping in at the weekends can do more harm than good.
- Avoid bright lights and screens in the evening to improve your sleep quality.
- Most people sleep better in a slightly cooler bedroom than they think (this seems to be true for me).
There’s lots of other information too, with plenty of practical tips on how to apply it. If you’re someone who sometimes needs a bit of motivation to put your phone down and go to bed, this could be it.
…it’s always worth questioning what you read. When I posted this on Facebook, someone pointed me in the direction of this link which has some pretty strong criticism of Walker’s work. This brings up a wider point about science and uncertainty, which I want to blog more about in future. It’s much easier to spread a message if it’s clear, relatively straightforward and unequivocal, and Walker certainly does that here. Sleep is good – do more of it. Unfortunately, this tends to crowd out nuance and uncertainty. There’s good reason to think that the science isn’t as clear on some of the details as the book suggests. So whilst it’s a good starting point for raising awareness and countering a culture that too often dismisses sleep as unimportant; if you care about the details (and you should), then read it skeptically.
Popular science books can be useful as an easily accessible introduction to a field, but bear in mind that the reality is often messier and more complicated than they make out.