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Training to Sleep and Sleeping to Train

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Training to Sleep and Sleeping to Train

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In his chosen career, Dennis Barrett fundamentally understands the importance of rest and recovery all too well when it comes to himself and his athletes.

He is the head track coach at Montreal’s McGill University and has been a coach there since 1984. Among his list of professional accomplishments, Dennis has won the title of Quebec’s university conference coach-of-the-year over 32 times in cross-country and over 22 times in track.


Today, he not only trains McGill athletes but has an additional roster of clients that include football players, tennis players, NFL players, figure skaters, and private clients. His involvement in their training and professional careers means that he has a close-up look at how nutrition, hydration, exercise, and sleep shape their bodies and minds. 


When athletes (or anyone else, for that matter) trains frequently, it is absolutely necessary to take care of one’s body.


If you are training hard, good rest and good recovery are the cornerstones of performance and discipline. You will always be tired if you do not condition yourself to sleep properly.


Training that part of your brain to get you to bed is equally as important as physical training. Dennis explains that both proper nutrition and rest are vital to set you up for a good day of training. Both athletes and non-athletes are often under the impression that in order to make a difference or improve their physical conditions, they should be training hard every single day.


Dennis believes that this type of mentality is likely to overexert the body and mind and lead to exhaustion. Instead, he recommends spacing out your training and not feeling like going hard every day is the secret to peak athleticism. Spacing out training actually gives the body time to continue working and growing on off days and making you stronger and more active on the days that you do push your limits.

dennis barrett


Feeling good about yourself and your body is vital toward getting the better and overall performance and getting good sleep at night is one of the only ways to achieve those types of goals.


Athletes often think that they only need to rest their muscles, which is not the case. Numerous studies have shown that sleep deprivation can lead to decreased alertness and reaction times. This means that athletes are twice as likely to suffer an injury if they sleep less than eight hours every single night. Reaction times and mental alertness are not the only factors to take into account. Your muscles also need to rest and recover after an intense day of training or competition. You build your muscles during training days but those same muscles grow and strengthen during recovery.


However, muscles are not the only body parts that need recovery, contrary to what some may think. A person’s vital organs, nervous system, and brain also need to rest and recover. Your liver and kidneys are being pushed so hard day in and day out that if you don’t take care of them properly, they won’t be able to do their bodily jobs. Treating your body and mind to a proper night's sleep is essential. The amount of sleep one gets can mean drastic improvements in one's athletic performance and abilities.


Furthermore, lack of rest and sleep can sometimes lead to a state of chronic fatigue, which is almost comparable to a coma-like state, Dennis explains. Once you reach that point of fatigue, it is difficult to recover. Chronic fatigue syndrome, or CFS, is a condition that occurs when a person goes beyond the state of simply being “tired”. It’s an intense fatigue that can be made worse through mental activity (studying) or physical activity (training).


Athletes can become susceptible to CFS due to their rigorous training regimes, especially if they are not taking care of their sleep habits. While CFS patients can find themselves sleeping for upwards of 12 hours a night, they’ll still wake up feeling groggy and unrefreshed. If you are overly exhausted, chances are you’ll end up tossing and turning all night long.


On the other end of the spectrum, some CFS patients can experience issues falling asleep and staying asleep. These ongoing bad nights can have serious consequences on day-to-day life. All the more reason to develop a proper sleeping routine and stick to it. Developing good sleep routines are a great way to get ahead of the tossing and turning.


Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning (even on weekends) is a great first step toward improving your sleep health. This way, your body’s internal clock has a chance to recalibrate and find that sleep sweet spot.


Avoiding caffeine, soft drinks, smoking, and heavy meals a few hours before hitting the hay will also greatly improve your Zzzs. Putting your phone on airplane mode and avoiding screen time before shutting down for the night… it goes without saying.

Dennis Barrett’s Coaching Model

Less is best according to this coach

Barrett describes his coaching model as “less is best”.

He believes that, as a coach, he rather deal with errors that lean on the lesser side and not on the more serious side. Training at a consistent pace and frequency and not over-exerting yourself and pushing your boundaries at every training session will help maintain a healthy schedule and improve performance over time.

Often, coaches who push too hard or too frequently can unknowingly increase the probability of a burn out to the athlete.

As an athlete, it is important to listen to your body and what it needs, if you do not want to experience a burn out. As he says: “if all it took to be good at running is to run a lot of miles, then everyone would be doing it – but that’s not all it takes”.

Rest and recovery may not always be the first element of care that come to mind when you think of an athlete, but they are of the utmost importance. Listening to your body and giving it the sleep that it craves will allow you to reap so many more benefits.

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