Sunday, 27 November 2011

Sleeping like a swimmer....

I've never been a great sleeper, and my insomniac tendencies always get worse during the academic term when it becomes harder to contain teaching and writing responsibilities within a reasonable working day. Consequently, in spite of a carefully managed routine of hot drinks, light reading, herbal sleeping pills and a light that simulates the sunset in an attempt to trick my body into sleep, I am often awake in the early hours, my mind racing and my body fidgety and unsettled. As anyone who has trouble sleeping knows, it's a vicious cycle once it starts - feeling tired during the day makes you anxious about getting a good night's sleep, which makes it harder to get to sleep.

But then along came the distance swimming, which completely transformed the quality of my sleep. I've done other endurance sports - marathon, triathlon - but while I've found these exhausting, I've never really found them restful. But swimming....well, that's a different thing altogether. As my openwater training escalated in 2009, I noticed a distinct dropping off in my novel reading, going from reading several books a week in bed before sleep, to barely a few pages each night before falling asleep, often with book in hand. I knocked my sunset light off the bedside table accidentally one day and it broke, but I didn't replace it - I was no longer awake for long enough to even remember to switch it on. After long sea swims, I started to experience an utterly delicious, fully-body tiredness that made every surface look like I could curl up on it for a nap. Even in the middle of the intensifying pressures of work, I slept more profoundly than I could ever remember.

Fast-forward to the present. The stroke correction programme I've been following has been engaging and productive, but it's not "swimming" - not enough to produce the lovely easy sleep of long distance training. And I've been running, but only 3-4 miles a few times a week, and in any case, running just doesn't work in the same way for me. And so, as the stresses of term have intensified, my quality of sleep has declined; the herbal sleeping pills are back, and I had to buy a new sunset light. But then, last week, I decided that it was time to reintroduce swimming (as opposed to just drilling) into my training, and have started doing sets on top of my daily drills - only 2-3km at a time for now, and always trying to swim mindful of my stroke corrections, but swimming, nevertheless. And lo and behold...my swim-sleep has returned - something which has been aided by my fairly poor swim-specific fitness, meaning that I get nicely tired even at relatively low distances. Bad news for my hopes of keeping up with contemporary fiction; but great news for my general well-being. Here's to sleeping like a swimmer.

1 comment:

  1. I have the same experience. No swim=no sleep.

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