How are things? We’re coming up to a quarter of the way through 2022 (whaaaat?) and today we are…well, one day closer to summer than we were yesterday. I’m trying to look on the bright side here because the doom and gloom are getting a little heavy…to put it lightly. See what I did there? Come at me with your weightlifting puns! Speaking of weightlifting, how are your New Year’s Resolutions going? Did the horrific state of the world change whether or not you made them, or change what kind of resolutions you made? I’m legitimately curious so tell me in the comments at the bottom.
I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s Resolutions under normal circumstances; generally I think if it’s worth making a change it’s worth doing right now. Every day is a fresh start, you know? But the last couple of years have been the farthest from normal circumstances and most of us need all the structure we can cling to, so even this old curmudgeon felt compelled to make a New Years’ Resolution this year. But before I get into that, here’s a story for some context.
I’ve been competing in barbell sports (powerlifting and weightlifting) for a bunch of years now and enjoyed some success at it. Since 2018, though, my progress has ground to a dead stop and I’ve been showing up to lift the same weights at every event for the last four years. It was as though the minute I turned 40, my body went “NOPE YOU’VE PEAKED” and even though I was putting in work pretty consistently, all of my lifts stayed the same. It’s ok, I kept telling myself, I do this because it’s awesome and I love it. I’m just going to stay in the game and fight the age-related decline as much as I can.
Of course, in the back of my mind I knew that was bullshit; there WAS a missing link and I just didn’t want to face it because facing our failures is DIFFICULT. Like, seriously difficult; so much so that putting in more work in the gym, grinding my gears to dust, and trash-talking myself for not being better was easier than admitting where my real failure was and taking the steps to fix it.
What was this insurmountable obstacle, you ask? You’re going to laugh when I tell you because it’s so obvious.
The missing piece, the seemingly insurmountable obstacle, was sleep.
I’ve never been great at sleeping – many years of late nights playing music and early mornings in the gym and the inevitable sleep interruptions brought on by parenthood (and I’m not only talking about the early stages – worrying about teenagers is no picnic either!) were the perfect storm in which to build terrible sleep habits. Something needed to change, but I wasn’t sure where to start.
In November of 2019 I started wearing a Whoop strap. I felt like maybe it would help identify some patterns and keep me a little more accountable to watching my recovery, and I was appalled at how crappy it was. I mean, I knew I was tired all the time but I figured that was just an adulting problem. About five minutes later there was a pandemic which brought about its own stew of stressors (emphatically NOT worth getting into here; the less said about that bullshit the better).
Fast-forward to November of 2021: I had just done powerlifting Western Canadian Championships where I did ok, but my performance was lacklustre at best. I remember starting my warm up on competition day and thinking “Shit, I am BAGGED – I can’t wait for this to be over.” I mulled over my poor-ish showing for a few days. The Alberta Masters’ Weightlifting meet was coming up, and damned if I was going to show up for another meet and lift the same weights and feel crummy about it. But what to do? I was doing my level best to balance work and life and sanity and I was barely getting from day to day; training harder wasn’t going to work.
Around then I got an email from Whoop with my annual performance assessment, which hit like a ton of bricks. I got sufficient sleep SIX TIMES. In a YEAR. My average sleep duration in 2021 was 5.5 hours. I mean, I knew I wasn’t doing great but surely I could do better than that. Right? I resolved to get more sleep in 2022.
Here’s the most common problem with New Year’s Resolutions though: most of the time when people resolve to make a change, they come charging out of the gate, guns blazing, determined to do a complete about-face and expecting to see results fairly quickly. They do well for a little while, but then the novelty wears off, or something comes unraveled at work, or life just gets in the way…and it all becomes overwhelming and falls apart as quickly as the plan came together. I mean, hell – that’s only human and I’ve done it myself enough times to relate; when you want a change you want it NOW. But this was different – I didn’t really want to start working harder on sleeping; I liked my evening breathing space! So I was almost hoping it wouldn’t work…
I started with shooting for an average of 6.5 hours a night, over the course of the week. I set a get-ready-for-bed alarm, and a bedtime alarm, and I stuck to them. Once that was working, I moved them back 15 minutes, then 30. Today, like a toddler, I aim to be in bed by 8:30pm and lights out by 9 so that when my alarm wakes me up at 4:30am I’ve at least given myself the chance to be fully rested. Does it always work? Nope – but things are WAY better. Is it easy? FUCK NO – it is a freaking sacrifice every damn day; I resent like hell not having that extra time every evening. But I am sort of nicer sometimes, and my family likes that I still have some control over my emotions by Thursday. It’s gotten to the point where I can hardly stay awake by 8:30 anyway – ain’t nothing productive getting done; might as well just go to bed. And the weights on my barbell are increasing for the first time in years which makes it all worth it.