The Underappreciated Supplement

The other day a friend was recommending to me a range of health supplements that she felt can support my brain and cardiovascular functions. I am not against or for any supplements in general but being a little cheeky that day I jokingly told her that I am currently big on a particular supplement that helps me with the following…

  • improve memory
  • sharpen concentration
  • accelerate tissue repair
  • boost growth hormone to build bone and muscle
  • enhance metabolism
  • lower blood pressure
  • strengthen body’s ability to fight infections

And the best thing is that it is free!

Before she could protest or laugh me off, I told her that the supplement I was referring to is SLEEP. More accurately, getting enough sleep each night.

When it comes to sleep, I used to be able to get away with less. Sleep deprivation did not seem to affect me that much. Sure it was tough to get out of the bed and the day would feel wonky. But it was something that I could get use to and tolerate, even for a few days in a row.

However these days, either age has caught up or from training load demands, I find that sleep (or the lack of it) has more significant impact on my well-being throughout the day. Apart from the general benefits of sleep stated above, the most profound advantage of sleep I experienced on my training is that it has the ability to make hard workout effort feels easier.

The underlying tenet is to get enough sleep. But how much is enough? And does enough just means putting in the required hours? How about the quality of the sleep during that few hours?

We are all unique individuals and everyone’s requirement of sleep hours is different. Then there are other factors such as physiology, lifestyle and environment which will greatly affect the sleep requirements. It is really up to you to ascertain how much quality sleep is considered enough for you daily and then have the discipline to go to bed and get that amount of sleep.  

There are tonnes of resources on the importance of sleep but my favourite reference is from sleep scientist Matthew Walker, director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley. The goal of this research centre is understand everything about sleep’s impact on us, from birth to death, in sickness and health. In his research, Walker demonstrated powerful links between sleep loss and, among other things, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and poor mental health.

The evidence Walker presented is enough to send anyone early to bed. It’s not an option at all. Without sleep, there is low energy and disease. With sleep, there is vitality and health.

You can read the article on Matthew Walker’s work here – Sleep should be prescribed. What those late nights out could be costing you.

There are many recommendations on how to get better sleep.

  • Keep a consistent bed and wake time, even on weekends
  • Turn off your electronics before bed to avoid stimulation to your mind
  • Get regular exercise, but not within 2-3 hours of bedtime
  • Avoid heavy meals, liquid, alcohol, and caffeine within 3 hours of bed
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool
  • Get a comfortable bed, mattress, and pillow
  • De-clutter and clean your bedroom regularly

I won’t get into details and it is not the purpose of this blog. You can find out what’s best for you by reading and sieving through the available information out there.  

Despite the seemingly advantages of getting enough quality sleep, most studies have found that athletes fail to obtain the recommended amount of sleep. This is detrimental to especially runners who can be prone to insomnia during vigorous training cycles when they need sleep the most.

Training for an ultra is very demanding on your body. So if you are serious about running and feeling your best, it is crucial that you prioritise and practise getting a good night’s sleep as if it were written in your training plan. 

Lastly from my very own experience, if I am unable to get to bed on time the night before, I would better off sleep the required hours instead of forcing myself up to go for the morning run stated in the training plan. I would choose sleep more than the run. It may not be obvious now, but I believe I will benefit more over the long run.

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