I have always loved to sleep. I have fond memories of sleeping in during the summers as a child. Free from the responsibilities of school I loved to lounge in bed staring at the mid-morning light in my window listening to birds go about their day. I love to wake up slow. I’ll lay in bed thinking about nothing in particular relaxing before my day takes shape. I used to think that maybe I was lazy. And given our workaholic way of life, I thought maybe I should feel guilty about my desire to relax. But I won’t ever think that again.
When I hear people say things like, “I only need six hours of sleep a night and I’m fine.” I can only stare in disbelief. I need at a minimum 8 hours of solid sleep to wake up and feel like I can make it to the other side of the day without getting hit with a wave of fatigue. The stress here is on “minimum.” Preferably I would get nine or even ten hours of sleep, plus a 30-40 minute wake up time. And when I used to live in my truck and climb full time, I could easily log 11 or 12 hours of sleep if I was climbing hard. I was legendary for how much I could sleep.
I’ve been thinking more about rest and how it relates to happiness, productivity, and performance. Mostly because for the past several years I have not been sleeping very well. I wake up in the middle of the night. Usually around 4am. And then I have trouble going back to sleep. I lay awake for an hour (or more); and depending on what time I need to get up, I might fall back asleep after much restlessness. After an hour or so I awake suddenly. Ripped from my deep return to sleep and into waking super groggy and usually grumpy.
This has not been great for my health. I’ve had the flu twice and a cold already in 2019. My poor sleep performance has undoubtedly contributed to this. But poor sleep is also preventing me from climbing my best.
We are in the golden age of information about how to train for rock climbing. Countless podcasts, books, websites, and videos are a click away. Coaches will consult with you and help develop a tailor-made training program to help you achieve your sending goals. These programs usually have a hearty emphasis on fingerboarding, bouldering, and strength exercises. As they should. But the more I’ve researched and developed my own training the more I find that one of the most important aspects of training is left out or is merely a footnote. And that is rest. More specifically, sleep.
The most up-to-date research has revealed that the best way to recover isn’t with massage gadgets, sports drinks, ice baths, heat baths, or recovery exercise. It’s with sleep. In “Good to Go” (maybe the most up to date resource on how to recover from training) Christie Aschwanden says, “You could add together every other recovery aid ever discovered, and they wouldn’t stack up. Going to sleep is like taking your body to the repair shop.”--“It’s hands down the most powerful recovery tool known to science.” I'm only a few chapters into this book but it is already helping me redesign the way I approach resting and recovery.
I am starting to see a few climbing blogs mention the importance of sleep. The well-known Scottish climber Dave MacLeod has posted about it. And The Training Beta podcast has mentioned it too. Perhaps we'll see more of this research filter into climbing training. If you're struggling with rest, recovery, or injury I encourage you to look at your sleep habits. If you want to learn more about how important sleep is to performance and recovery check out the links below.
Training Beta Podcast:
Another night of sub-par sleep and I feel like I’m waking up in a haze. I usually awake deep in the night. Usually between 3-5am. Sometimes I go back to sleep and sometimes I don’t, but I’m always guaranteed at least an hour or so of restless fidgeting and a mind that sees useless information passing through it almost like a conduit. And I can’t slow it down. At this point, two years into the insomnia, it’s difficult to get any perspective on it. I've tried so many things. No alcohol. No caffeine. Lots of exercise. No exercise. No carbs. Meditation. No screen time before bed. Stretching before bed. None of it works. I used to think a really long and exhausting day climbing would put me out like a baby but the opposite has held true. I sleep worse after a long day of climbing and wake up feeling destroyed from the previous day's effort. Isn't adulthood the best?
Here's a happy story. This morning I woke up at 5am. I tossed for a good while before finally falling into a hazy dream. I dreamed I was standing in the middle of a five-lane interstate with 20 foot high walls on either side. At first I thought I’d find a way off the road. I quickly searched and scanned for an exit point. Feeling the walls for a weakness I could exploit and use to climb out. But, it quickly occurred to me that I was in trouble. Cars were bearing down on me and driving fast. I woke up just before their arrival. It was only 7:30am. I couldn’t get back to sleep. Feel free to use that if you're writing a screenplay just try to get my name in the credits somewhere. I'm used to getting paid that way for my music.
Sigh. I’m almost 50, and I am starting to feel like it too. Maybe I feel older? How would I know? But lately I've been so wrecked. My difficulty sleeping has undoubtedly contributed to my recent three month onslaught of health problems. The first bout of flu in January was the sickest I have ever been in my life. Then I caught a four-day cold in February only to follow that up with another bout of flu in March. This one less severe but its effects have been annoyingly long lasting. It's been as royal a beat down as I've ever experienced. Kinda gives you pause to look around and wonder. "What the fuck is happening?"
I think in the past I would be feeling really sorry for myself. Call it the GlumChums. (™) I would likely be in a foul and selfish mood for long periods. But, I’m not anymore. I promise. I’ve been actively trying to maintain a more intentionally positive outlook. And I find it works. If I go to bed pissed off and angry that I might wake up, I’ve learned I probably will. I’ve come to accept this problem and hopefully there is a manageable solution. The point of this post is not to gain sympathy or look for suggestions to help my insomnia. It's to write about it so I don’t bottle it up and become pissed off. Maybe by writing, I’ll gain some insight. I’m no self-help advisor, but maybe it will connect with someone who can relate. Maybe? Just don't cross me if I look sleepy. I'll cut you.
2019 so far has kind of sucked. Actually it has mostly sucked. I was sick for most of January. I carried mild flu symptoms for a week, then I got the flu and it was the sickest I've ever been in my whole life. Without overstating it, the fever, aches, chills and fatigue were crushing. It took another week to recover. When it was over I felt lucky to have avoided going to the hospital such was its severity.
February was going along OK, but I picked up a cold seemingly out of nowhere. It wasn't too bad compared to the flu I had just been through and only lasted about four days. I was still able to function despite the indignity.
But March came along and about a week into it I started to feel weird again. Mild aches and fatigue for a couple of days gave way to nearly full-blown flu symptoms again. By the fourth day my throat was achingly sore and I was smacked down with the flu. AGAIN! Now after another three days of being stuck in bed recovering from the intense fatigue, I'm up and doing house chores again and steadily coughing up junk from the depths of my lungs.
As the smoke clears from this three month onslaught of ill health, I'm left wondering what the fuck just happened. Is this gonna happen again? What the hell is wrong with me? Of course, I have no answers to these questions. It could very well happen again. What this has done, besides prompt a closer look at my health habits, is motivate me to get the hell on with any projects and ideas I've been kicking around.
And one of those projects is that I'd like to write more. Specifically, I'd like to write more about climbing. It should be no surprise that I want to climb more. That I want to climb well, and I want to climb as hard as I can. But, I'd like to turn some of that drive into self expression. And possibly create some content to help out others.
Climbing has become ridiculously popular. And with films like Free Solo and Dawn Wall breaking through to the masses, it's likely only going to grow bigger and bigger. I've learned that I have a strong desire to teach and mentor climbers. I go to the climbing gym and I see some really green climbers, and I worry about how some of these folks are going to get along when they start going outside. In my 30 years of climbing I've seen some truly fucked up (but entirely avoidable) shit. I find myself compelled to try and contribute something helpful.
For example. Many years ago I was climbing at Foster Falls and saw a woman toproping a steep face route. She was cleaning quickdraws as she went. All was going fine until she got to the anchor where she proceeded to clean both draws off the anchor as well. I will spare you the details but fortunately that story had a happy ending. But I've seen plenty of similar scenarios that didn't have happy endings. As has been well documented at this point, I nearly died when two bolts broke while sport climbing. Climbing is dangerous. It seems mentorship is either dead or at least sorely lacking in today's climbing scene.
I'm hoping to start creating content along those lines as well as documenting my own goals and adventures. And I'm hoping to do it over a variety of platforms. Blogs, Vlogs, IG posts and whatever else. The cool thing is that I don't have any kind of a destination point for any of this and see it as kind of never ending in a way. At least until I can no longer get out there and climb. And I plan to keep that going as long as I can.
My illnesses this year have been rugged, but as is often the case, adversity provides us some clarity. And real serious beat downs can motivate you to get on with it. Our time here is limited and I'm not dead yet. I'm looking forward to getting into this next stage of life and creativity.