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Sleep deprivation and its effects on training, exercise performance and other important things

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It’s the day for my long run and last night was a shocker with one child sick with gastro and the other one waking countless times for no particular reason. Sound familiar? Being a parent and keeping up with exercise routines is frequently challenging because of the sleep habits of our little angels. Have faith – research suggests that exercise performance after sleep deprivation does not seem to be affected, but this may depend on the time of day that you work out or compete. In three separate studies involving both males and females, several preceding nights of partial sleep deprivation (averaging 2h sleep a night for 3 nights – sound familiar?!), no differences in gross motor performance or strength was noted. That is, the subjects ran and cycled just as fast as they did at baseline testing. However, in one study involving women, the subjects found it harder to exercise in the morning rather than in the evening.

It’s not all good though. Deterioration in other functions like reaction time and hand steadiness were noted, as well as affecting “mood states, increasing depression, tension, confusion, fatigue and anger, while decreasing vigour significantly”. In studies that involved total sleep deprivation (that is, no sleep at all for one or more nights), “bizarre behavioural episodes, illusions or hallucinations were often noted” as well as significant effects on mood. So it seems that even though our purely physical functions remain intact, it may feel harder to get motivated and to keep going through exercise.

What do we take from this? Two things, in my opinion. Firstly, that we don’t have to skip a training session just because we didn’t get our eight hours the night before. Let’s face it, sleep deprivation is a scenario that is more common than not when you are parents of small children, and to frequently skip a session may not be in our best interests. Exercise has been demonstrated to improve mood, cure depression, and improve sleep – so you’ll feel better after your workout and sleep better (when you do get some sleep!).

Secondly, sleep deprivation can have some very serious effects on our thinking and moods. Do whatever it takes to get more sleep – get your partner to help out the next night (one recovery sleep can restore all your functions, apparently), phone the sleep school, see if you can wing a nap during the day at all.

So what did I do this morning? Well I can definitely contest to having a change in mood, and fatigue! But I decided to head out the door, because it was a beautiful day and my babysitter (Mum) was around – an opportunity difficult to pass up. It wasn’t easy, but I told myself I just needed to get through 8km and not the 10K I usually do. I managed 9km and took 10 seconds longer per km than usual. I felt great post-workout of course, and snuck in a nap in the afternoon. Here’s to hoping for a silent night tonight and happy sleeping munchkins! :)

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