Sunday, March 29, 2015

Stress, Sleep, and Training

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Do you have a busy training and race schedule and have a job that requires long hours with lots of stress?  If you answered yes then you are not alone because many other people are in the same boat.  If you are driven to succeed then you probably work long hours and really hate to miss any of your scheduled workouts.  Most highly driven people are very driven to succeed with their training as well. Many times they overload their schedules with races that are probably more than they should take on given their work and family lifestyle. Let’s talk about how stress and lack of sleep can negatively affect your body. 

Stress can cause many problems and each problem can in turn cause another problem.  Everything can pile up and at some point the body can’t handle it anymore and it begins to breakdown.  Stress causes an increase in a hormone in the body called cortisol.  Cortisol is a hormone that you need in small amounts, but in excess it can have a negative effect on your body, your training and your sleep patterns.  Stress can cause the following problems:

  • Headache
  • Stomach problems
  • Sleep problems
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Tension or pain
  • Change in sex drive
  •  Anxiety
  •  Overeating
  •  Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  •  Inability to focus
  • Lacking motivation
  • Increase cortisol production
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle loss

If you have a stressful job you may not necessarily be able to change jobs but you can learn to manage your stress.  Most importantly is to not add to your stress by overloading your race schedule with unrealistic goals or goals that will stress you out more.  If you struggle to find time to train for shorter distance races then it might not be such a great idea to train for something longer.  I am all for people challenging themselves and setting goals however I don’t think its good if you are going to struggle to fit everything in.   If you are already time crunched and stressed then look again at the list of aliments you are looking at adding to your life.  On the other hand if you are stressed exercise may be just what you need but it needs to be able to be balanced right in your life.

Some ways to manage your stress include yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, healthy eating, getting enough sleep, don’t drink alcohol or rely on drugs (medical or recreational), ease up on caffeine, get counseling, surround yourself with positive people, work on time management, and exercise.  If you’re an athlete then make sure your race schedule is realistic.

Too bad we all couldn't sleep like dogs!
Getting enough sleep is another key factor that will have an impact on your training.  Quality sleep is so essential for your body to recover from all of the training.  Quality training without quality sleep is the equivalent to driving a beautiful car but not taking care of the engine by getting regular oil changes and maintenance.  If you have a nice car and don’t take care of it after a while it will start to decrease its performance.  For a while it will run good but eventually without maintenance it will quit performing.  Your body is similar because without good quality sleep you may perform pretty good for a while but eventually it will catch up.  Sleep is when your body recovers from all the hard training you perform on a regular basis.  If you have trouble sleeping then you should experiment with ways to help you sleep better.  Here are a few suggestions:
  • Remove all electronics from your room.
  • Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning if possible.  Shoot for 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Don’t short yourself on sleep one night thinking you will make it up another night.
  • Try meditation to help you sleep.
  • Try natural supplements such as melatonin, chamomile, L-theanine, L-tryptophan, 5HTP, and valerian.  I take a natural supplement called Tranquil Sleep made by Natural Factors.  It is a combination of L-theanine, 5HTP and melatonin. There are many more combinations out there and you can try several until you find one that works for you.  Most vitamin stores will guarantee their product so if one doesn’t work then return it and find one that does.
  • Cut back or eliminate caffeine and any other stimulate that you may be taking. If you have to have caffeine then don’t have it past 2pm.
  • Check your cortisol levels because if they are high then it will cause you to sleep restless.  There are supplements that you can take to reduce cortisol such as phosphatidylserine.
  • Try not to work out too close to your bedtime. 
  • Get regular massages.

If you are training and not getting enough sleep and stressed at work eventually it will catch up to you.  You may start to have subtle things that start happening such as getting sick more often or getting injured.  If you are training and you start your workout fatigued then your form is most likely not good and that can lead to injury.  Stress can cause an increase in inflammation in your body and that can lead to injury. 

Stress and lack of sleep have become a huge problem for most people and it will eventually takes its toll on your body so manage it now before its too late.

Train Hard.  Have Fun.  Recover Well.

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