The Importance of Sleep


Photo from Bellingrath Gardens in Alabama

I clutched the steering wheel of the Crown Victoria on my way to graduate school classes at Kent State University, keeping my eyes wide open. Red light. My head bobbed and hit the steering wheel; my foot slipped off the brake pedal, and the car drifted forward. Tires squealed. I slammed on the brake just in time before hitting the car in front of me. Obviously, I was too tired to drive even if it meant being late to my eight AM class.

A gas station to my right looked like a good place to pull over and stop, so that’s just what I did. I called my mom to have her call me in 15 minutes after I took a short nap in my parked car; this was in the 90s before cell phones had alarms on them. I needed sleep.

Sleep is just as important to me today as it was when I attended graduate school. In fact, all the training and nutrition I can muster is nothing compared to a good night’s sleep. So, why is sleep so elusive for me? Some people thought I was narcoleptic, falling asleep at the wheel of the car, in class during a lecture, on an airplane at take-off, in waiting rooms, on the train. You name the place, and I could fall asleep within 10 minutes of sitting down. No. I am not narcoleptic, but I do have mild sleep apnea that has been untreated for years.

Last year, I finally did an at-home sleep study to confirm what Phil had been hearing all night long–the snoring, the pause, and then the gasp for air. To alleviate symptoms, I’m having a mouth guard made by my dentist that will keep my airway open. I can’t wait. And that’s not sarcasm. I want to know what it’s like to wake up refreshed instead of tired. To go through the day awake instead of in zombie mode. To train when my body has the rest it needs. Hello, sleep! I’ve missed you.

What I’m saying is that when you look at your training plan and your nutrition, take a look at the quality and amount of rest you are getting too. It might just change your life. And, maybe your race times will get faster too.