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Friday, October 1, 2010
Losing Sleep Over Open Water Swimming & Triathlons
Up to 50% of people are affected by insomnia.
Insomnia is also very real issue in the open water swimming community and triathlon world, especially the more importance that the athlete places on the event.
While most swimmers and triathles seem to sleep well throughout their training cycles, many also report they have problems sleeping both before and after their solo swims and races. Sleep, a key requirement to properly recover from heavy-volume training, is relished in the busy daily lives of athletes whether they are students, working adults and/or parents. Insomnia is usually non-existent when the athletes are swimming long and hard. In fact, many swimmers and triathletes who do morning workouts or long weekend swims often feel great need for naps throughout the day or after eating.
But come race day, the endurance swimmer’s nerves of steel become simply nerves – and plenty of them. Strangely enough, even after marathon swims and triathlons are over – success or not – sleep does not come easily even when the athlete has been up for more than 24 straight hours.
In a survey of experienced marathon swimming veterans from six countries of all ages – from teenagers to Half Century Club members, there was an interesting mix of responses to questions about insomnia. It is clear that many marathon swimmers lose sleep over open water swimming.
The swimmers who were surveyed included Catalina Channel record holder Todd Robinson, land- and water-based ultra-marathoner Vito Bialla, marathon swimmer Dr. Peter Attia, International Marathon Swimming Hall of Famer Nora Toledano, Molokai Channel record holder Chris Palfrey, Lake Tahoe record holder Patti Bauernfeind, Triple Crown swimmer Jim Barber, world non-stop lake distance swimmer Edna Llorens, ultra-extreme athlete Dan Martin, International Marathon Swimming Hall of Famers Sally Minty-Gravett and Skip Storch, English Channel swimmer Dr. Karen Throsby, pro swimmer Hans-Peter Hartog, FINA Sports Medicine Committee member Dr. Jim Miller, Triple Crown swimmers Mike Miller and Michelle Macy, two-time Olympian Patricia Kohlmann, adventure swimmer Jamie Patrick, Lake Ontario Swim Teamer Rob Kent, Catalina Channel swimmer Jen Schumacher, International Marathon Swimming Hall of Famer inductee Penny Palfrey and channel swimmer and organizer Ron Collins.
Do you sleep regularly on the night before your marathon swims?
Todd Robinson: Yes, although I adjust my bedtime so that I can get 6 to 7 hours of sleep before beginning my swim at night. So, for a midnight start, I start about 2 weeks out from the swim gradually moving the time I go to bed from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. - I adjust my wake-up times accordingly.
Vito Bialla: I never have trouble sleeping. Red wine is my secret.
Dr. Attia: No, but I attribute it to nerves.
Nora Toledano: Yes, I do.
Chris Palfrey: Hardly ever.
Patti Bauernfeind: Yes, if I have difficulty falling asleep, I will do 30 minutes of meditation.
Jim Barber: No. Plus traveling to different time zones makes it more complicated. I have always recommended to anyone that is changing time zones to add 1-2 days advance travel for every hour.
Edna Llorens: I sleep very well, but get up with any noise or movement. I am very easy to wake up.
Dan Martin: Yes, I've always slept pretty well.
Sally Minty-Gravett: I don’t need much sleep generally. Before a big swim, I sleep fitfully – thinking it all through and concerned for weather – and sometimes, even concerned about my swimming ability. Once in the water I am fine.
Skip Storch: Yes.
Dr. Throsby: On all three swims I've done, I haven't slept well for several nights before. Following on from my recent Channel swim, I was really surprised to experience significant insomnia afterwards.
Hans-Peter Hartog: Yes.
Dr. Miller: I have problems sleeping right before any major competition, as do most.
Mike Miller: If I am starting the next DAY, I will go to bed, sleep comes and goes. If I am starting THAT night, no I won't, If I am starting the NEXT night, absolutely.
Patricia Kohlmann: Yes, I regularly do, or at least I try to rest as much as possible considering you are anxious to start the swim.
Michelle Macy: I do my best to try to maintain the same sleeping schedule. However, I'm usually more restless before a swim. To help aid, I make sure to line up all my swim gear, breakfast food, etc. to help keep my mind from spinning at night.
Jamie Patrick: I sleep OK if I am not starting my swim first thing in the morning. If I am start early I tend to not sleep well.
Rob Kent: Usually, but I assume that I won't be able to sleep well. I've always had the view that 2 nights before your race is the key sleep. Odds are good you'll toss and turn the night before, if you don't, it's a bonus.
Jen Schumacher: No, I’m usually tossing and turning.
Penny Palfrey: No, but I'm getting much better at it with experience.
Ron Collins: "No. I have an erratic pattern, but always have difficulty sleeping before a big meet or marathon. I swam Catalina and the English Channel having not slept a wink on the night before. However, a swimmer friend told me his former coach once told him that the most important night to sleep is the night BEFORE the night before. So, I've always tried to sleep a long time on the night before the night before, because I'm probably not going to sleep much on the night before the swim."
Why do you think you cannot sleep normally right before your marathon swims?
Todd Robinson: The only problem is too much sunlight at 4 or 5 pm.
Vito Bialla: Not applicable.
Dr. Attia: Anxiety.
Nora Toledano: Sometime ago I could not sleep the night before of my marathon swims because the excitement and thinking about how the conditions would be or if I would forget something to take for the boat. Now I know, anyway, with sleep or not sleep I cannot change the conditions and it is better to try to take a rest. By other hand, I do a checklist the day before the swim and the day of the race too, before to leave the hotel, so I do not forget anything.
Chris Palfrey: I go through aspects of my swim, the excitement, nerves.
Patti Bauernfeind: I have a lot of pent up energy. I typically preserve my energy three days before the swim which means that I can feel a bit wired. Yoga and meditation help to relax me.
Jim Barber: The anxiety of thinking through what the actual conditions will be. There is always an element of surprise to the conditions. Also I am noting that I have everything needed for the swim.
Edna Llorens: The excitement, nerves and being alerted by something.
Dan Martin: Not applicable.
Skip Storch: Not applicable.
Dr. Throsby: I think it's mostly excitement and anxiety. Perhaps this will change as I become more experienced. Also, I think that because by then because I've tapered, I'm not as physically tired as I am during the more intense training phase.
Hans-Peter Hartog: Maybe some swimmers are nervous?
Dr. Miller: Excitement, if I find out the event is postponed for some reason, I sleep just fine that night.
Mike Miller: Adrenaline?
Patricia Kohlmann: Because you are anxious about the swim and usually you are looking after the last details of the swim.
Michelle Macy: I think it is anxiety, nervousness, excitement, etc. I know for me it is also wanting to know how does this swim story end.
Jamie Patrick: I think that I do not sleep normal the night before mostly because of the anticipation. Having worked so hard and being so close it is hard for me to calm my brain.
Rob Kent: Good old fashion nerves.
Jen Schumacher: Normally I’m a combination of nervous and excited before swims, and I can’t stop thinking about the swim the night before.
Penny Palfrey: I've spent probably months, planning and training for a swim that's finally arrived, excitement, anticipation, nerves, thoughts of the conditions you'll get during the swim, wake up calls, equipment, support crew requirements are all on my mind. Being well organised ahead of time and having complete faith in your support team eliminates many of these concerns.
Ron Collins: "Thoughts, nervousness, mental imaging and rehearsal. Concentrating on the event is not a totally bad thing."
If you start your marathon swim at night, what do you do the day of or before your swim: sleep, rest or a regular schedule?
Todd Robinson: Sleep according to anadjusted schedule and rest.
Vito Bialla: Relax and lie around.
Dr. Attia: For night start, I try to nap that afternoon, but never can. Settle for just laying in a dark room from 10 am to 4 pm.
Nora Toledano: I try to sleep and have some rest during the day, if I cannot sleep I stay reclining and reading, writing or listening music.
Chris Palfrey: I try to rest as much as possible.
Patti Bauernfeind: I get lots of rest. I minimize my activities so I 'banking' my energy.
Anne Cleveland: In 2004, I arrived in Dover ten days before my tide was to start, after a 24-hour commute from San Diego. I was very committed to completing my two-way and planned to be re-acclimated to the cold water and well-rested before starting out. I ended up swimming two days after my arrival, having not slept a wink since leaving home. Somehow, I made it through that one...although I wonder to this day how. Perhaps the cold water kept me awake?
Jim Barber: As for me, I arrived 7 days in advance and started to change my clock to match up with the actual time for the swim. By the night before the swim, I was going to bed at 4 am and sleep until 10:00 am with a nap during the day. I took Ambien to force the change.
Edna Llorens: I maintain a regular schedule.
Dan Martin: I maintain a regular schedule, maybe slightly less active than a normal day.
Skip Storch: Sleep as much as possible. A good rest has both made and broke the success of a swim for me. I think that a deep and restful sleep mirrors your comfort levels and adaption with your environment and surroundings. Once I travel to a new location all my daily patterns of rest, training, and eating are interrupted. It takes some time to adapt to the elevation, amount of daylight, foods, bedding and a new sleeping pattern. What I do to adapt as soon as possible since I don't have the luxury to spend two weeks getting use to the area, is to treat it as a business trip. When traveling to a new area I naturally want to sight see and explore the area. This is a big mistake! On a business trip, you have a schedule which includes a couple of hours of sightseeing, eating and communication. If I develop a timetable which includes a balanced amount of rest and play, then come the big day, I am rested and ready to go. This takes understanding and as much discipline as the swim itself.
Dr. Throsby: I'm not very good at napping during the day, or sleeping outside of my normal sleeping hours, so it's better for me to follow a regular schedule, whilst being careful to take it easy - eating regularly, getting lots of reading done etc.
Hans-Peter Hartog: I maintain a regular schedule.
Dr. Miller: I work with a lot of athletes that do this. The athlete should begin adjusting to the time demand one to two weeks in advance by moving their clock forward or backward (depending on where the race is) at 30 minutes per day. Some will say one hour, but that can be very disruptive to work and school demands.
Mike Miller: I don’t do anything. Rest, CarboPro or Cytomax, eat what I want, when I want it. More rest.
Patricia Kohlmann: I try to sleep or at least rest and eat well.
Michelle Macy: I follow a similar preparation mode to a morning swim, but I leave the afternoon open so that I can relax/sleep/meditate.
Jamie Patrick: I started my Tahoe swim early evening. I tried to let my crew handle everything and tried not to get worried about the little things. I did not sleep, but tried to rest and visualize the adventure.
Rob Kent: Get a good night's sleep the day before and try and have a nap or just a quiet time if napping isn't possible.
Jen Schumacher: I normally rest and sleep the day before a swim that starts at night. I try to wake up very early that morning, so I can get 4-6 hours of sleep in the evening before the swim begins.
Penny Palfrey: Sleep, make sure I'm well organised then rest and sleep as much as I'm able.
Ron Collins: Try to nap, but almost never actually take a nap.
Do you adjust your schedule in any way for a marathon swim that will begin or go through the night?
Todd Robinson: Yes, I think it is important to adjust your sleep cycle so that your body does not expect to be in deep REM sleep right around the time you are beginning a marathon swim. I adjust my bedtime so that I can get 6 to 7 hours of sleep before beginning my swim at night. So, for a midnight start, I start about 2 weeks out from the swim gradually moving the time I go to bed from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. - I adjust my wake-up times accordingly.
Vito Bialla: Not applicable.
Dr. Attia: I move to increasingly earlier rises in the morning so I can get my body used to altering cortisol production.
Nora Toledano: I do not.
Chris Palfrey: A night swim is much different to a day swim because it means I’m not working, so not keeping to a normal schedule.
Patti Bauernfeind: I take 2 days off before a marathon swim regardless of the start time. I take a nap and/or meditate during the afternoon. For a midnight start, I don't try to sleep. For an early morning start, I will try to get 6 hours.
Jim Barber: Yes.
Edna Llorens: No, I just do it at the moment.
Dan Martin: No.
Skip Storch: I isolate myself from the public. The swim director answers all question and acts as a buffer from any distractions. I sleep, hydrate and eat.
Dr. Throsby: As is the way with a Channel swim, the call came a lunch time for a swim starting at 2 am the following morning, so I had very little opportunity to adjust my schedule. I made the 5-hour drive to Dover, then mixed all the feeds while I waited for my crew to arrive. Then I went to bed at about 9.30 pm for a few hours, although I didn't get much sleep. But I figured that just lying very quietly, listening to the radio, dozing, was still restful and would help a little. If I'd already been down there, I probably wouldn't have gone to bed during the day (because I know I wouldn't sleep), but would have tried to have a very quiet day.
Hans-Peter Hartog: No.
Mike Miller: No room to adjust. Work is work, kids are kids.
Patricia Kohlmann: If you know the schedule of the swim, I try to adjust to it. But most of the time, you do not know the start time until a few hours before.
Michelle Macy: I adjust by training at night and creating different scenarios i.e. night training with some sleep before, no sleep, etc.
Jamie Patrick: The only thing that I adjust is adding in some night swims into my training.
Rob Kent: Just go to bed a bit earlier to get well rested, for practical reasons I don't usually alter my sleep patterns going into a big swim.
Jen Schumacher: Yes, as much as my schedule allows. Ideally, I am not working or doing much the day before. I try to slowly shift my sleep schedule the week before, so I’m going to bed very early and waking up very early. This gives me the best shot at getting some sleep the evening before a marathon swim that starts at night.
Penny Palfrey: No I wake up too early, staying up late would leave me sleep deprived.
Ron Collins: I try, but it doesn't seem to make a difference.
In a normal 24-hour period, how many hours do you sleep on average?
Todd Robinson: 8 hours.
Vito Bialla: 4 – 5 hours.
Dr. Attia: 5 – 7 hours.
Nora Toledano: I usually sleep 8 hours, in my normal schedule. Sometimes, I take an afternoon nap, about an hour.
Chris Palfrey: 7 hours.
Patti Bauernfeind: I typically sleep at least 7 hours but prefer to have 8. I need to repair and heal from all the training.
Jim Barber: 8 hours.
Edna Llorens: Between 6 and 7 hours.
Dan Martin: 8 – 9 hours each night. Sometimes more after a big swim.
Sally Minty-Gravett: I don’t need much sleep generally...on a day-to-day basis I can survive on 5 – 6 hours tops.
Skip Storch: 5 – 6 hours per day.
Dr. Throsby: About 7 – 8 hours.
Hans-Peter Hartog: 9 hours.
Dr. Miller: 4 – 9 hours.
Mike Miller: 5 – 8 hours.
Patricia Kohlmann: 6 – 7 hours.
Michelle Macy: I do my best to get 8 – 9 hours of sleep for recovery.
Jamie Patrick: 8 – 9 hours.
Rob Kent: 7 hours.
Jen Schumacher: 6 – 8 hours.
Penny Palfrey: 6 – 8 hours.
Ron Collins: 4 – 7 hours.
In the 24 hours after your marathon swims, how many hours do you normally sleep?
Todd Robinson: 10 hours.
Vito Bialla: The same as usual.
Dr. Attia: 10+ hours.
Nora Toledano: A couple hours.
Chris Palfrey: 3 – 4 hours.
Patti Bauernfeind: I don't sleep well at all. I get body work done the day after a swim which helps me to sleep that night.
Jim Barber: 6 hours, but it’s a very restless sleep as the pain is starting to surface.
Edna Llorens: Very few the first night, then normally 6 or 7 hours.
Dan Martin: I've done 14 after a 10-hour swim.
Sally Minty-Gravett: After swims, I can sleep initially for a very short while and then I can spend about 36 to 48 hours hardly sleeping at all.
Skip Storch: 12 – 14 hours.
Dr. Throsby: For both my swims this year (Jersey to France and the Channel), I only slept for 4 – 5 hours in the 24 hours after the swim. Particularly after the Channel, I slept very fitfully, and the following night, was up at 3 am watching DVDs.
Hans-Peter Hartog: 9 – 10 hours.
Dr. Miller: At least 8 hours.
Mike Miller: After the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim and the English Channel, I slept very long, 9 – 10 hours.
Patricia Kohlmann: I usually do not sleep much because of the over excitement. May 5 – 6, but then I am overly sleepy so after the first 24 hours is when I sleep more, may be 8 – 9 hours.
Michelle Macy: I get less sleep after a swim maybe 6 or so. It is a few days after the swim that I need longer and more frequent periods of rest.
Jamie Patrick: Very little. My body thinks it is still moving. My muscles have a hard time relaxing. sporadic sleep maybe 3 – 4 hours.
Rob Kent: 10 hours.
Jen Schumacher: 8 to 10 hours, but usually it’s not solid sleep.
Penny Palfrey: 6 to 8. I don't usually sleep well after a race, but I sleep much better after a crossing. My best ever sleep was after my 2006 English Channel swim in force 5-6 conditions. It was force 7 on our trip back to England and water was breaking over the bow of the boat, we were all huddled against the boats cabin since it was the only dryish place on the boat. That night in my warm bed under I could hear the wind and rain pelting on the roof outside, I was warm, dry and satisfied with my crossing...that was the best sleep.
Ron Collins: I try to get in a full 8, but the rush is still with me so I don't sleep much after the swim either.
After your marathon swims, how long did it take you to return to your normal sleep patterns: one day, three days, a week?
Todd Robinson: One day.
Vito Bialla: One day.
Dr. Attia: 1 – 3 days, depending on the difficulty of the swim.
Nora Toledano: About a week.
Chris Palfrey: 2 – 3 days.
Patti Bauernfeind: 3 days.
Jim Barber: 2 – 3 days.
Edna Llorens: I think it takes me at the most 2 days.
Dan Martin: One day.
Skip Storch: Minimum of three days, all the way up to a week.
Dr. Throsby: It only took a couple of days to return to normal sleep after Jersey-to-France swim, but much longer after the Channel. But 3 days after swimming the Channel, I had to fly to Australia (from the UK) with work, which messed up my sleep patterns even further. But I definitely wasn't sleeping well up to when I left, and it was a good week before I felt like I was really getting into a deep and sustained sleep.
Hans-Peter Hartog: One day.
Dr. Miller: Same day I am fine.
Mike Miller: A couple of weeks actually and don’t know why.
Patricia Kohlmann: One day.
Michelle Macy: Maybe a week. However, about 6 weeks after a swim I experience a second wave of tiredness.
Jamie Patrick: 3 or 4 days.
Rob Kent: 1 day.
Jen Schumacher: About 2 to 3 days.
Penny Palfrey: That's not usually a problem for me straight away.
Ron Collins: 3 or 4 days probably.
Why do you think you could not sleep after your marathon swims?
Todd Robinson: Getting back to a regular sleep schedule is not a problem for me.
Vito Bialla: One day.
Dr. Attia: Not applicable.
Nora Toledano: Mentally, there is excitement. My mind is flying thinking about the day. Physically, because the fatigue and muscle pain and muscle reflexes. Endorphins and adrenaline are flowing in my body. And my metabolism stays on.
Chris Palfrey: I think about aspects of the swim, getting up to go to the toilet every two hours because hydrating and sports drinks are still going through me.
Patti Bauernfeind: I am still adrenalized. I feel like I am still swimming.
Jim Barber: Tendon and muscle pain.
Edna Llorens: The sleeping rhythm you were having during the marathon swim.
Dan Martin: Not applicable.
Sally Minty-Gravett: I am sure it is the adrenalin or excitement after the event which does this. I have said to many swimmers that they will not sleep properly after a big swim, but they never believe me – until after. I think that is a common after-effect.
Skip Storch: It was time to celebrate. The excitement was intoxicating.
Dr. Throsby: It's hard to say why. I think that in part, it is just the excitement of it all, but I don't think that that can explain the enduring nature of my insomnia. After my Channel swim, I was quite hyper for several days, with much more energy than I had expected; although at the same time, I felt as if I were hung-over, and was having trouble concentrating on tasks. I felt like I was in a state of chronic systemic, metabolic chaos as a result of a combination of lost sleep, prolonged physical exertion, stress, missed meals, sugar, salt, dehydration....and probably a lot more.
Hans-Peter Hartog: Adrenaline and maybe thinking of the choices you made in the marathon.
Dr. Miller: I have not seen this as a personal or athlete problem unless time zones are involved or there was an unusual stress during the event - hypothermia, hyperthermia, bites, stings, crocodiles.
Mike Miller: It's an emotional letdown to finish the task. Initially, there is a 'charge' of course, but within weeks, restlessness sets in. Mike Oram, Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation, actually notes depression can be a result of a successful English Channel crossing.
Patricia Kohlmann: Over excitement, over tired.
Michelle Macy: Excitement, anxiety, sore, thoughts of what could I have done differently.
Jamie Patrick: Because the body has been a constant state of movement for so long, it takes awhile for the muscles to stop firing.
Rob Kent: Over-exhaustion and physical discomfort.
Jen Schumacher: I think swimming through the night especially just confuses your body and messes up your circadian rhythm. You are also so full of adrenaline after completing a swim, making it hard to fall asleep. Also, for at least two nights my body is so sore I can’t stay in one position for too long, so I’m tossing and turning throughout the night.
Penny Palfrey: If I don't sleep it's because I'm going through the swim in my head or something that happened during the swim. But this is usually a race and can be any distance not necessarily a marathon.
Ron Collins: Excitement, mental review.
Were you physically hurting after your swims or was the euphoria of your success so great that it prevented sleep?
Todd Robinson: No, I think the general fatigue helped me to sleep.
Vito Bialla: Not applicable.
Dr. Attia: Not applicable.
Nora Toledano: Both.
Chris Palfrey: Mental things rather than physical pain prevent sleep.
Patti Bauernfeind: I was fatigued and had some pain. For example, after Lake Tahoe, my wrists were swollen and painful and my neck hurt. I felt great otherwise and enjoyed celebrating with everyone. But after all the celebrating I was tired. It is frustrating to not be able to sleep when feeling spent.
Jim Barber: No euphoria, just physical soreness.
Edna Llorens: I think both happen to me, but it is much more euphoria.
Dan Martin: Stiff and achey, but exhausted so slept well.
Skip Storch: I am usual in pain for a few weeks. Most of the time I need to be put in the hospital, but I turn it down unless I am in big trouble.
Dr. Throsby: After my first long swim - Round Jersey - I had a lot of shoulder pain, which disrupted my sleep. But this year, after both Jersey to France and the Channel, I had no significant pain or discomfort, and certainly not anything that was disrupting my sleep. There was an element of euphoria (relief?) that I'd finished the swims, but also, I think that there was just lot to process - especially after the Channel, which had had some very difficult moments which it took me a while to get my head around.
Hans-Peter Hartog: No, it does not matter.
Dr. Miller: Both have been involved but usually they do not interfere with sleep.
Mike Miller: After the English Channel, I was really in a lot of pain, all confined to my shoulder.
Patricia Kohlmann: Both, although I think it was more the euphoria.
Michelle Macy: Both.
Jamie Patrick: On my three swims over 12 miles, euphoria made me sleep better.
Rob Kent: I was more physically hurting and exhaustion, the euphoria didn't set in until a day or two later.
Jen Schumacher: Both inhibit my sleep.
Penny Palfrey: Sore muscles can be a problem when trying to get to sleep or waking with sore bits.
Ron Collins: Euphoria always outweighs the physical. I do feel some pain in the shoulders and from the chafing.
If you take any sleep medicine for your insomnia, does this medicine help?
Todd Robinson: Not applicable.
Vito Bialla: Cabernet Sauvignon.
Dr. Attia: Not applicable.
Nora Toledano: I do not take any medicine to sleep or muscle pain.
Chris Palfrey: I have on rare occasions, but it does not help much.
Patti Bauernfeind: I don't take any medication except for Advil.
Jim Barber: I only take sleep medicine pre race and not after.
Edna Llorens: If I do, natural thing will do help - Dalay.
Dan Martin: Not applicable.
Skip Storch: Not applicable.
Dr. Throsby: I didn't take any medication to aid sleep.
Hans-Peter Hartog: I do not take sleep medicine.
Dr. Miller: Hydration helps more. Eat routine foods, rich in carbohydrates and protein early in recovery to resupply stores.
Mike Miller: No prescription medication.
Patricia Kohlmann: I do not take any sleep medicine, I just wait for the tiredness to catch up.
Michelle Macy: Sometimes.
Jamie Patrick: I did take Tylenol PM after all my swims and it did help.
Rob Kent: I don't usually take it, I just let my body adjust because I know I'll fall asleep eventually given how tired I am.
Jen Schumacher: I do not.
Penny Palfrey: I have never taken any sleep medicine.
Ron Collins: I've tried, but it doesn't seem to work, even if I double the recommended dose. I generally stay away from anything other than vitamins.
Does eating lots of food help? If not, what helps?
Todd Robinson: A cold and dark room.
Vito Bialla: Not applicable.
Dr. Attia: Not applicable.
Nora Toledano: Sometimes it helps also for me it helps to listen music, take a bath, clean the swim stuff, write about day and then try to sleep, but I do not mind not sleeping the night after my swim, I'm happy and enjoying the achievement!
Chris Palfrey: Eating is just something I do because I can’t sleep. Nothing helps except time.
Patti Bauernfeind: Eating helps me to feel replenished, but it doesn't help me to sleep. Getting a massage that includes working on my lymphatic system really helps.
Jim Barber: No. I have always wondered about sex pre-swim. I have always avoided having sex pre-race. I doubt I would be interested in sex pre-race since my mind is so occupied with making sure everything is in place.
Edna Llorens: A very nice relaxing massage will be all that I need which will not let other matters and worries come into my mind.
Dan Martin: Watching TV and generally doing nothing helps. A bowl of cereals usually puts me out.
Skip Storch: Rest, rehabilitation, fluids, and time.
Dr. Throsby: Especially after the Channel, I found it difficult to eat a lot, and could only manage small meals / snacks for the 24 hours following the swim, although about 3 days later I was hungry as a horse. When I couldn't sleep, I found that very plain carbohydrates (buttered toast, rice) helped. Plus lots of water during the day. It was also unfortunate that I had to start preparing for my trip to Australia almost immediate after my swim, so my head was spinning with that. Ideally, I think I would have benefitted from having a very quiet week to recover physically and psychologically after the swim, where I could eat regularly and start getting my sleep patterns back in order.
Hans-Peter Hartog: A few days for the marathon it helps, but 24 hours before the marathon a lot of eating isn't quite good for me.
Dr. Miller: Nope, I cannot sleep before any of them.
Mike Miller: No, it doesn't help. I don’t fight it then it owns me. I roll with the punches.
Patricia Kohlmann: I think that what helps is to eventually go back to your schedule, eat right, eat on schedule and eventually you will be so tired that you will sleep again.
Michelle Macy: Meditation and mindfulness exercises typically gets me to relax and calm down enough to let my body recuperate.
Jamie Patrick: I believe the proper food helps calm the system. Massage!
Rob Kent: No, I usually have an upset stomach and no appetite. Patience.
Jen Schumacher: Your metabolism is so ramped up that if you don’t eat plenty you may wake up just from hunger! Aleve and surrounding myself with pillows also help me stay asleep.
Penny Palfrey: I enjoy a warm shower, I eat as much or as little as I feel I want to. If I'm hurting paracetamol is usually enough to take the edge off to get to sleep.
Ron Collins: I suffer from a mild case of narcolepsy sometimes after eating a large lunch. I've used food on a few occasions to try to make me fall asleep.
If you do other endurance sports (e.g., marathon runs, cycling, triathlons, sailing), is your experience with insomnia different from the insomnia that you experience before or after swimming?
Todd Robinson: Not applicable.
Vito Bialla: No, they’re all the same.
Peter Attia: Not applicable.
Nora Toledano: I suffer from insomnia more when I swim a marathon than when I did an Ironman.
Chris Palfrey: Not applicable.
Patti Bauernfeind: I have done several marathons and I felt different after them. It was a lot easier to sleep after running the marathons. Since running a marathon is approx 1/3 of the time it takes to swim 22+ miles and uses less energy, something happens that changes how my body reacts. It would be very interesting to have an ultra-marathoner like Dean Karnazas weigh in. His 100 mile runs are roughly equal to swimming the English Channel, assuming 10K swim equals 26.2 miles running.
Jim Barber: Not applicable.
Edna Llorens: The worst for me is when I’m responsible for a swimming event, but I can’t sleep very well days before and two days later.
Dan Martin: I don't get insomnia. I didn't get it after marathons or the last two bike treks.
Skip Storch: As difficult as it is to make sure you have enough sleep before and after a marathon swim, try a staged swim with up to two marathons a day for days on end.
Hans-Peter Hartog: I only swim.
Patricia Kohlmann: It is the same.
Rob Kent: It is virtually the same. The only difference is that with swimming you usually aren't as physically beaten up as you are after a running ultra marathon or Ironman, etc.
These endurance athletes' responses are even-keeled and present a healthy recognition of their nervousness and body's ability to adapt.
It remind us of the the methodology used by Olympic 10K Marathon Swim gold medalist Maarten van der Weijden in the months leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Because he lived so many time zones away from Beijing in his native Netherlands, he completely changed his lifestyle to be on the same time zone at Beijing. He even walked around with lights on his cap during evening hours so his body clock was completely in tune with Beijing even months before he arrived in China.
Photos from a marathon swimming relay in the Sea of Cortez by Andy Lebuhn.
Copyright © 2010 by World Open Water Swimming Association
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