Wellness a Four-Legged Stool
By four-legged stool, I am referring to four key elements of well-being. Exercise, Nutrition, Sleep and Stress Management. If one leg is short, you will wobble.
Our culture places a high value on pushing ourselves, often to our limits. Productivity is key. Work harder to achieve the results you desire. I know so many people who think pushing themselves is a sign of personal commitment and is key to their pursuit of excellence.
Much of this thinking has merit. It is well-grounded in a strong work ethic. However, one must beware of the Law of Diminishing Returns in regards to strength, health and fitness. Particularly if you’re over 50 years of age.
Last Year Results
Constant tweaking resulted in a leaner and stronger me. But it is not enough. Things should be much better. Why? Because I tend to overdo, and grind myself down.
- Exercise – Exercise was great, I got back into CrossFit and Olympic lifting and I’m typically training 4 to 5 sessions a week.
- Nutrition – I spent time with a couple coaches, dialing in my nutrition, constantly monitoring my calories, macros and performance.
- Stress Management – I retired from my job as an IT Director. My stress is under control! In fact it is close to non-existent.
- Sleep – I need to focus my attention on proper recovery. More specifically I need to learn to sleep.
Trending – “Sleep Hygiene”
I recently listened to three podcasts that addressed “sleep hygiene”. Think of the term as simply “cleaning up your sleep habits“. If you’re interested in listening to these conversations, download them to your smartphone and consume them during your commute this week.
- Pursuing Health with Julie Foucher: Julie interviewed Dan Bailey, as he discussed his poor sleep habits.
- Barbell Shrugged Annie Sakamoto and Ron Ortiz, discussed training and competing as Masters athletes.
- Barbell Shrugged, Brad Parsley, a former SEAL and doctor discussed the importance of sleep and hormonal optimization in health, fitness and performance.
For the past several years, I have noticed a trend. I workout and grow stronger. Everything goes well in the gym, until…, the wheels fall off. I can think of no other way to describe it. A tsunami of fatigue overwhelms me for weeks. Then I lose time in the gym and I regress in strength and conditioning.
My first experience with this phenomenon was after my first CrossFit competition several years ago. I do not possess the levels of strength and stamina of the younger athletes on the floor. I am two to three times older than most, so even in the Scaled Division, I am flat out in every event, only to finish in last place.
Many of my Masters Athlete friends told me I was a “victim” of Paleo, my low-carb lifestyle left me insufficiently fueled for this activity. Now I focus on a macro-based approach to nutrition. Adding healthy carbs back into my diet has helped. But recovery still sucks. I have neglected the fourth leg of the stool: Sleep.
Rest & Recovery – a Challenge for 2017
After a years of giving attention to exercise and nutrition, I must commit the same vigilance to rest and recovery. My progress under the bar is limited. Aging Masters may need to scale down the frequency, volume or intensity of strength sessions. I struggle to increase my volume, because my recovery requires at least 48 hours between heavy workouts. Sleep is poor, interrupted and short. So recovery is often elusive.
So let’s fast forward to how a 66 year old can get 8+ hours of sleep a night. FYI – at 66 it is recommended that I get at least 8-9 hours of sleep a night.
First let’s agree, it will not be uninterrupted. It will require a minimum of one wake-up to pee.
And therein lies the rub, because with every wake-up is the risk of the “monkey mind” jump starting, and sleep now becomes elusive, if not just impossible. Add to that environmental issues like ambient light, temperatures and noise, and the wheels are ready to fall off.
“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” – Ernest Hemingway
My actual goal is proper recovery for my weightlifting and CrossFit activities. To facilitate this, I need more sleep. The challenge is to get 9 hours of sleep every night, though anything over 7 will be a win. What must I do to make it so? This requires a framework to change behavior. To be successful, I must pursue consistency.
Defined a Plan
I decided to spend the next 30 days managing/changing my behavior. I am addicted to little glass screens (and large glass screens), and I have difficulty shutting down until bedtime. That had to change. So here was my strategy for the next 30 days. To get nine hours of sleep I must turn lights out no later than 10 o’clock. I set my alarm for 7:00 a.m., which is very late for me. I’ve been up at 5:30 for most of the past 50 years.
- 3:00 P.M. – No more caffeine consumption
- 8:00 P.M. – no more large meals
- 8:30 P.M. – reduce consumption of liquids, begin easing into downtime.
- 9:00 P.M. – no more Internet or screen time for the day
- change into sleepwear
- listen to relaxing music and/or…
- read a paper book (…in a chair. No more reading in bed. No more laptop in bed.)
- 9:45 P.M. – one last trip to the bathroom, and go to bed.
- a guided meditation (I like Headspace), or…
- listen to low volume white noise, or…
- a monotone narrated book.
- 10:00 P.M. – be asleep
Regarding Sleeping Environment
The purpose of this post, is to address personal behavior, in regards to sleep habits. There is so much more that one can pursue to address the physical environment, such as temperature, sleepwear (or not), blackout curtains, banning all electronics from the bedroom, covering any LEDs, and on and on. These issues are valid, but they are beyond the scope of this article.
This plan worked reasonably well for four weeks. I have found resetting some behavior to be easier than others.
Mindfulness regarding my intake of caffeine, food and liquid has resulted in me waking only once a night (compared to three before I began this). Most nights I get back to sleep after waking to go to the bathroom. But if I can’t sleep, I go into the other room to read until I’m drowsy again.
Restful sleep has risen from 6 hours, to at least 8. I am waking on my own, typically before my alarm goes off.
The most elusive element of this plan was my gadgets. I fail miserably with shutting down electronics early in the evening. To offset this, I use screen filters to block blue-light emissions on my MacBook, Tablets, and Phone. I am reasonably successful with lights-out at 10:00 and waking about 6:00.
How do other Masters Athlete deal with issues of sleep and/or recovery? I’m sure I am not the only one who wants to know. Please share your wisdom with the rest of the tribe.
Be Defiant! Sleep Well!