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: