Wake up: It’s time to talk about sleep! Sarah Bowen Shea and her BRF, Molly Williams, chat about all facets of sleep, answering questions from the AMR Facebook page, with two guests: Ellen Wermter, a family nurse practitioner at Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine, then professional distance runner Stephanie Bruce. First up is Nurse Ellen, who reveals the optimal average of hours we should be sleeping (the number might surprise you)—and she offers welcome reassurance that it’s normal to have one or two interruptions during the night. (Is that a baby crying we hear—or our partner snoring?!) She shares ways to get deeper sleep plus tips for staying asleep. The sleep-nurse also reveals ways to break the habit of recurring middle-of-night fret sessions. Find out what a “worry window” is—and why taking a daily one can improve your slumber sessions.
Next on the sleep train is pro runner Stephanie Bruce, who tells why she was able to set personal records in both the 10K and marathon in 2018. This mom of two preschool-age sons reveals bedtime rituals—both hers and that of her young family. (#apples) Stephanie shares how she stopped suffering from night sweats. In talking about sleep hygiene, Stephanie tells how she adjusts for races in distant time zones.
In the introductory chitchat, the running partners tell tales about that morning’s tempo run and their debut float-chamber sessions. Nurse Ellen comes on to talk about sleep at 20:08.
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Here is the transcription of the interviews in this episode:
Sarah: Our first guest is Ellen Wermter, a family nurse practitioner at Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine in Virginia. Ellen is a dedicated sleep professional, certified in cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. In her personal life, Ellen is very much one of the mother runner tribe. She's a mom of four, and Ellen enjoys running and yoga. Thanks for coming on to talk sleep with us, Ellen.
Ellen: Thank you for having me.
Sarah: Yeah. Four kids, and I have to say when I saw your picture that you sent us for our social media collage, I was like, "Wait a minute. Did she have her kids when she herself was a child?" I mean, you look so young, yet your kids look grown up. What's up with that?
Ellen: Thank you so much, it's such a big compliment and one I used to get before I had four kids. They have aged me a bit but I had my first child at age 25, and he's getting ready to turn 20 at the end of this week. My other children going down from there are a 17 year old son, and then 13 and 15 year old daughters.
Ellen: So we have a busy household, but they're a lot of fun at this age for sure.
Sarah: Oh good, but they're keeping you up at night in a different way. Maybe you're waiting for them to get home from parties or dates or something like that instead of crying or needing to go to the bathroom.
Ellen: Yes, a little bit. Although I think that kids now, at least in the circles that we know, don't tend to go out quite as much because they can connect through their social media accounts and so they don't have that pressing need to go out and hang out with friends, because they can do it from their own house. Sometimes they-
Sarah: That's an interesting theory. I was just thinking, "Oh, I guess Phoebe doesn't party as much as I used to."
Molly: Yeah, well there is a whole thing about kids not connecting as much. Sarah was telling me her daughter is taking a trip down to Ashland and they told them they couldn't bring phones, so they've got six hours on a bus without their phones, and they're going to have to learn how to talk to each other.
Sarah: I know, right? Yeah, Daphne was like, "What are we going to do on a bus for six hours without phones?"
Molly: Because a lot of times they're just parallel playing with their phones and sharing stuff, and now they can't even do that. Good skills.
Ellen: Eye contact.
Molly: Yeah. Then the dating thing is completely different with the apps and the texting and do you text or do you talk. Ellie has been talking to a boy and that ... Well, texting to a boy and my husband suggested that they talk. She said, "Oh no, we're not at that point in the relationship where we actually talk. That's serious stuff." So I'm like. We love that you're a runner. Maybe you're a so good looking because you're a runner and you're a good sleeper?
Ellen: Sure. I'll go with that. True, yeah.
Molly: How long have you been a runner and are you training for anything?
Ellen: Oh yes, I've been running since, wow, I mean I ran a little bit in high school, but really it probably was around the time I started having children that I started to see the benefit as far as, you get a really good workout in a short amount of time, which is helpful when you're managing that when you have kids. I do one 10 miler a year just to keep myself honest and then we'll do some other things based on what comes up. Right now I have three sisters and they talked me into doing a run bike event that we're going to be a four person team and you go 125 miles in one night. For some reason I don't understand why it is overnight.
Sarah: Couldn't we do this during the day folks?
Molly: Yeah. That's [crosstalk 00:03:54] getting in the way of your sleep.
Ellen: The most terrifying part of the whole thing for me is that it's going to be in the dark and it's going to be at a time when it's not optimal performance and my body is going to really want to be asleep, but I think I'm going to sort of use it as an opportunity to maybe do a blog post or talk about what that situation was like. I told them, I said, "Hey, I'll do it with you this time, but in the future when we choose races let's pick one when the sun is up."
Molly: They're just messing with you. They're going to take the sleep expert and make you stay up all night.
Ellen: I think they are.
Molly: I don't think they like you very much. I don't know what you did to them but I think you should bring the chocolate, that's all I got to say. So when you're not being harassed by your sisters, you have a job that involves sleeping and probably not just sleeping. Do you want to tell us about your work life?
Ellen: Oh yes. I have a wonderful job at Charlottesville neurology and sleep medicine. I work with the physician here named Chris Winter who's sort of famous in the sleep field because he did a study about major league baseball players and the circadian advantage of, that that is actually there based on when we're most likely to be at peak performance. He's been a great mentor to me, but we have a small clinic here in Charlottesville and we see patients everyday and we see them for a variety of sleep disorders sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy, restless legs, lots of variety and it's a fun place to work. It's great.
Sarah: Good, good, good. Let's dive into questions. We put up a call for questions on our AMR Facebook page as we often do. And boy, we got just a slew of great questions.
Sarah: Yeah. So here's the first one. Monica asked, "How much sleep do you need and how interrupted can it be?"
Ellen: That's a good question. Everybody wants to know that magic number. The truth is it's very individualized. In fact the message in the media of you have to get your eight hours can be damaging for some people because not everybody needs eight hours. If you try to get it and you just can't because that's not who you genetically are, you're going to run into problems. The best thing you can do is sort of figure out for you what works. The average best number is actually closer to seven as far as mortality. There's a U shaped curve where very little you're going to have problems. Actually on the other end, if you're getting too much, you're going to have problems. Seven is about optimal but that again is just an average. There are going to be some people that do just fine on six and there are going to be other people that need eight and a half and nine.
Ellen: What you're looking for is, how long does it take you to fall asleep? How do you feel in the morning? Do you feel refreshed? One good way to sort of evaluate is if you take a vacation, when do you naturally fall asleep and wake up? How do you feel during the day? Those types of things. So it's different for everybody. What was the second part of the question?
Sarah: How interrupted. We're aiming maybe for seven, but what happens if you wake up for two hours in the middle of that? Is it still-
Ellen: Sure, sure. Yeah, I mean it's best if you can limit interruptions to once or twice a night. It is normal to have one or two interruptions. A lot of people want to have the sleep they had when they were a child where you lay down and you basically have a blackout period until you get up. That's unrealistic as we get older. We go through four to six week cycles. At the end of each cycle, we sort of lighten our sleep and we'll have an arousal if we were looking at that on a polysomnogram on a sleep study, we don't always remember it, but as we get older it's more likely that we will remember it because our sleep in general gets a little bit lighter. It's not unusual to have an awakening or an arousal. It's best if we can kind of get back to sleep within a half an hour or so. That would be more ideal than having these longer periods where we're unable to get back to sleep because that will add up and cut into our duration over time.
Sarah: Yeah. We have a couple of questions about that because that's definitely something that plagues a lot of other runners.
Molly: That's good to know that that's a normal thing. I did see historically that when we didn't have electric lights and people would ... You have the winter months where they have long periods of darkness and they would be in bed for a long period time because there wasn't much to do. There's even a term for it of these waking periods at night and people would think about things and you problem solve and make love and it was just part of a normal evening or it just happened.
Sarah: [crosstalk 00:09:17] have kids if you lived in a one room house.
Molly: Probably. I think that's so comforting to know that it's totally okay, just embrace it. Don't be afraid of it. Well several women asked a version of an ... Of a question that another Molly summed up at and it is ... Is it healthier to grab an extra hour of sleep or to get up and go for a run? I'm hoping your answer is to get an extra hour of sleep. Go ahead. No pressure.
Ellen: They've done some studies recently that looked at that and said where is the line? I think it just depends if you're short on sleep you're going to want to ... You're going to get the sleep. It's going to benefit you more. You're going to have a better result later if you go ahead and get the rest. It's a tricky question because at some point we're going to want to get that exercise in because it's going to help us sleep better the next night. If you need to break that cycle and that's the time that you're most likely to do it I would say get up and do it.
Sarah: [inaudible 00:10:36] is a follow up question that Kristen was asking, I'll ask the question then I'll give a little bit of her background. She wants to know is there a minim number of hours she should sleep before she tries to fit in training. That she was saying that what's the breaking point between exercise and sleep if you're not getting enough of either with her work schedule on kids she's getting four or five hours a night of sleep and that not always in one block and she right now isn't training because she feels she's not getting a solid core of sleep to support the training that she wants to do.
Ellen: Absolutely. Scheduling is just the biggest problem because you're trying to balance all of your other demands that you have. Often we'll have work that we're trying to do of taking care of kids, we'll have all of these things that we're trying to balance with our sleep and our exercise. Athletes particularly if you're training hard for something sometimes your sleep needs are higher during that training period. Even if you're normally pretty good on seven hours you're training really hard for something. You may need more. What I would say is during those times, anytime you can fit in and nap, even if it's on your lunch break. As long as it's not interfering with your ability to fall asleep at night that time that you're getting counts. Even if you don't fall asleep during that rest period, because let's say you are in the middle of work and you're stimulated by the work environment, even if you have time to just close your eyes and relax that rest and that recuperation is still very valuable.
Ellen: A lot of people will say, "Well I don't I don't even want to try because I only have 20 minutes and I'll only start to fall asleep at the end of that 20 minutes. I'm not even going to bother." Take that 20 minutes to just sit quietly and have a mental pause. Maybe some of the things that you normally ... Your brain can offload some of the things that it would normally do at night so that at night you can fall asleep faster or you just get a little bit of a mental recovery there from that rest period even if you don't nap. As far as minimums I don't have a set minimum. Again it goes back to your individual sleep need and then what additional you need based on how heavy your training schedule is. It is important to prioritize sleep because it's going to help with injury prevention, is going to help with your willpower to continue to do things.
Ellen: Your pain tolerance is better when you're well slept. Your judgment and your decision making is better. Your injury rate is lower, your speed and accuracy is higher. You're definitely going to need to prioritize sleep if you want to perform better in those other areas.
Sarah: I hear you're listing off all the benefits of sleep. No wonder it's called vitamin S. It's just like ... If they could put it in pill form it would be a miracle.
Ellen: Yes. Definitely.
Molly: This question might take us a bit down a rabbit hole but Laura would like you to explain the difference between deep sleep, REM sleep in the context of benefit to recovery and how can we get more deep sleep. I'll just add into that because it's not a long enough question. If you were to meditate how does that relate to sleep? Does that correlate to any part of sleep?
Ellen: Yes. Very good question actually. Sleep is divided into four sleep stages. You have REM and then you have three non REMs. Those are Non-REM one, Non-REM two and Non-REM three so very creative naming.
Molly: Wait I got to get this down. It's getting confusing. Go ahead.
Ellen: We just shortened them to N1, N2, N3 and then REM sleep. REM sleep is what we commonly think of as dream sleep. N1, N2 and N3 are the ... N1 being very, very light. N2 deeper light sleep which is where we spend most of our nights, 60% of our time. Don't knock light sleep. It's important too. Then very deep sleep is that N3, that slow wave sleep. That is your recovery sleep. That's when you secrete your growth hormone that's going to help with that muscle tissue repair and all of those micro abrasions it's going to help repair that. We get that in the first couple of hours of our night. Our body is very good at preserving that. It wants to go straight for it and make sure that we get it so that if our sleep's interrupted we've already taken care of that important part of the night.
Ellen: Ways you can get deeper sleep are a regular a regular routine is going to help that because your brain likes ... Wants to know what's coming up next. Wants to predict what's going to happen. A regular routine is going to help you sleep more deeply and meditation. Even though it sounds a little loosey-goosey, the science is there. It will actually help to rewire your brain and help you proceed your sleep and to get deeper sleep. A meditation practice I'll usually say, don't start it right before bed because it is a practice and if you feel like you're not doing ... A lot of us runners in particularly we're performance oriented and we are competitive and we want to do things well and meditation is something that is more ... Requires practice and so some days you're going to be better at it than others. I'd say usually what the recommendation is is try to pick a time at not right before bed but a time that you can be consistent.
Ellen: Like every day when I get back from my run or after dinner or tie it to something else I'm going to sit down and have a little meditation session. You can start with just three minutes a day, three days a week and then go up to five minutes a day, five days a week and to practice that for a few weeks and you'll probably see a difference in your sleep. Odds are good that you will. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system and it does some rewiring of the brain to help you be able to settle and quiet your thoughts. Lots of apps and things out there that you can try. One of the coolest that I like actually is the muse headband because it's MUSE. It actually gives you biofeedback. I love being able to hear my brainwaves as I'm meditating and make adjustments so it will help play an ambient noise of your choice.
Ellen: Let's say you like the beach, you pick the waves as you're doing your little meditation session, if you start to think about something that makes your brainwaves more active like no my ... I got to pack my kids lunch for tomorrow and I forgot to ... Then those waves will start to crash more violently. That's your signal to hey, your thoughts are getting more active, work to quiet them. Then you work to quiet your thoughts. They start to lap very gently again very quiet. If you're really, really calm they'll start to hear these birds chirping when at the end of ... I know it's-
Molly: Then you get all excited and you're back to the tsunami.
Sarah: Then you worry about the birds being drowned and it's just dreadful.
Ellen: Yes, it is. It's all good practice because then you get recoveries. If you go up to active and then back to calm you get a recovery and there's a little graph at the end that shares you here's where I lost it for a while and then I brought it back together and I heard 13 birds over the course of this. It appeals to the competitive side of me because I try to beat my high score. Which is probably not the point of meditation.
Molly: You just lost.
Sarah: You're going to start a forum of people who are competitive with muse headband or something.
Sarah: Gamers with muse headband.
Molly: That helps you get into that deep recovery phase of sleep the meditation?
Ellen: Yes. It can definitely help those lighter stations stages deepen a little bit.
Molly: Are those brainwaves similar to a phase of sleep that you get during meditation?
Ellen: Yeah it's like that in that your brainwaves are going to not be that very quick active, jerky movement. They're going to slow down.
Molly: They're not like in a non three, they're more like a non one or I guess.
Ellen: Right exactly. It's not going to be quite the same but it definitely is its good practice and moving in that direction. It helps you transition a little bit more easily.
Molly: I try to meditate. I try.
Sarah: All right. Dar asked the question that are on all of our minds. It's something we've touched on earlier. How do you go back to sleep when you wake up in the middle of the night and you can't turn your mind off?
Ellen: That's a good one. Couple of things, first of all if it's happening all the time then it's become a habit with your brain. Your brain has learned okay this is the time that I get to think about all these things. That does happen because I think particularly in the world we're living in now when we're awake we are getting bombarded by input all of the time. If we're not interacting with family or kids, we're scrolling our phone, the phone is ringing. There's all these demands on our cognition, on our time and attention. It's not until the lights go out and we have some quiet time that our brain is finally able to just shoo. Now what do I want to think about? Then all of these things start to bubble up that we haven't been able to address. One thing that can help is the faster you're going it's like a car trying to stop. The faster you're going during the day, the more time you're going to need to wind down before bed. Making sure that we're giving ourselves an adequate amount of time to calm down in the evening wind down.
Ellen: Another suggestion is a worry window. If you're in the habit of those things come up at night, you'll want to reschedule that worry time for another time of day. What we'll say is pick a time, sit down for 15 minutes, piece of paper, pencil. Start thinking of what ... Cut out all distractions. What is my brain going to give me? What's it going to hit me with tonight? Try to purposely think of those things during the day. When you do that and you can write them down. Writing them down has been shown to help even more because it's like we're offloading them. We're putting them on the paper and then our brain can let them go. It's not wanting to hold onto them and circle back because that's what always happens to me. I have the spot. I got to remember that later. My brain feels like it's a hamster wheel. It feels like it keeps coming back to the same. I can't let go of those things. They're all just rolling around in there and I can't get rid of them.
Ellen: There's something about writing it on the piece of papers. It's shown to be even more helpful. Establishing that worry window your brain is still going to want to do it at night just because it's a habit. That's what it's been doing. You tell it. You say, hey, I took care of that my worry window. I have another one scheduled for tomorrow. I don't need to do this now. Then you try to replace those thoughts with something else that brings you pleasure. What am I going to plant my garden? Or think about your training routine or think about something that's pleasurable to you. Typically that will allow you to relax and go to sleep. It takes time to retrain your brain because habits are hard to break. We do have to establish the new habit, let that take hold and then try to replace the negative or the worry thoughts and negative thoughts with something happier.
Ellen: If it's becoming a problem where you're frustrated that you can't get back to sleep, it's okay to get up and have a change of scenery for 20, 30 minutes. Do something quiet. Read a book and then go back to the bed. You don't want to build ... You don't want the bed to be a cue for struggle. You want the bed to be a cue for sleep. If you're spending a lot of time frustrated in bed then it might be time to get up and change scenery and reestablish the bed as a place where you're calm. If you can remain calm and lie there and think about happy things, you're getting a lot of benefit from that. Sometimes just knowing that makes people feel a little less stressed. I think what happens is we get where we're like, "I'm not going back to sleep. My gosh what if it takes another hour? What if I lay here." And you're starting to do the math of I've got to get up in three hours and how am I going to be functional for the day?
Ellen: That anxiety you're not going to be able to go to sleep if you're in that mood. If you can stay in relax mode and recognize that you're getting benefit from that quiet time. Nobody is bothering you. You're in a cool comfortable environment. It's dark. Just lay back and enjoy it.
Molly: Unfortunately for-
Ellen: Finally got some me time.
Molly: Unfortunately for a lot of us with partners it's not always quiet.
Ellen: Yes. When laying there contemplating murder in the middle of the night.
Sarah: Another use for a pillow.
Ellen: I wonder how long it'll take him to wake up if I put this over his face.
Sarah: I do have to say Ellen I'm very glad to know that I'm not the only person who talks to my brain. That you know you were saying, well just tell your brain no, no, no. I had my worry window today and I'll have another one tomorrow. I totally do that. It's so meta to be talking to your own brain but I have ... You have to.
Ellen: You have to pep talk to yourself.
Sarah: Absolutely. What I tell myself is you're not going to solve that problem now. That I can either fret a whole bunch about the tasks I didn't get done at work yesterday. Well unless I'm going to commit to getting up and doing them right now, fretting about them isn't going to do me any good.
Ellen: I love that. That's great. That's a great-
Sarah: You talking about thinking about what you're going to plant in your garden. I find that my brain wants something to chew on and so that I like to think of things that I have to ponder but that aren't troubling. I used to row with a friend whose husband's last name was Lubamarsky and they were having twin boys. I would lay there and think about what should Maria name her boys because-
Ellen: I love it.
Sarah: They have not a super easy last name to work with. Honestly for like a month.
Molly: Lewis and Bernie. Lewis, Lubamarsky and Bernie Lubamarsky.
Sarah: He would take a pause so much before he said Bernie Lubamarsky. They ended up with Aiden and Liam and then they had a Shamus. They're single.
Molly: That's all right.
Sarah: I don't know if I came up with better solutions, but anyway.
Ellen: That's perfect. You hit on exactly what you should be doing is giving your brain something to chew on but that's not troubling. I love that.
Molly: If I have a problem I'll contemplate the resolution of the problem and say its how am I going to do on that test, whatever. Then I'll think I've aced the test. How good that feels to have aced the test and I'll just try to sit with that feeling of being good with it. I know it has happened but I just try to embrace that feeling of it all went well.
Sarah: Duping yourself.
Molly: Yeah. Better than murder.
Sarah: As a follow-up to the original question that we got is on this whole track was so is it more common? Stephanie is wondering is it more common to sleep for shorter periods and less deeply the older you get. She finds she wakes up frequently and it's like it takes her a long time to go back to sleep and then even she feels she doesn't change. I relate to this that she doesn't change positions while asleep as much as you do when you're younger. When you're younger you like go to sleep on your side and you wake up and you're halfway across the bed on your other side. Sometimes I'll wake up seemingly the exact same position I went to sleep in.
Ellen: I don't know about the positions but I can speak to the lightness of sleep. That doesn't happen to everybody but some people do get a little bit lighter sleep as they get older and remember more of their arousals. There's something called sleep spindles that happen and you have ... They block out external noise and environmental noise and you don't have as many as you get older. Sometimes a white noise machine or a pink noise machine or something to even out the tone so that if a garbage truck does go by or a dog starts to bark or something like that it doesn't send an arousal signal to your brain, can help to keep those arousals from disturbing your sleep quite as much. Lighter sleep as we get older is something that does happen sometimes and it's not necessarily a bad thing.
Ellen: Sometimes we might need to get ... And less sometimes we can't sustain sleep as long. People will say I used to be able to sleep all the way till 8:00 and now I wake up at 7:00. Some of that could be a little bit of a shift in your [inaudible 00:29:54] type. As we get older we tend to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier. Some of it is there are other things that are interrupting our sleep either. It's lighter or we have more aches and pains as we get older that tend to disturb our sleep. Sometimes a nap isn't a bad idea if you're a person that naps successfully. What I mean by that is some people it just makes them feel more groggy and worse. In other situations they're very restorative. That sleep, that time that you're napping you can count it. It counts. It's still if you only got six hours and you've got an hour nap, then you can count seven. Even though it's not in that chunk it's still beneficial.
Sarah: Got you.
Molly: Several people asked a version of this question from Kimberly I have trouble sleeping after particularly long runs. I can feel exhausted but my body won't sleep. I've certainly had that experience.
Sarah: I've always chucked up to adrenaline. That I just get amped up after a long run. Gosh after a marathon forget about falling asleep early that night which seems counterintuitive.
Ellen: Totally normal though. It's okay. I would take the pressure off yourself about needing to sleep understand that it's your body's response to having just accomplished this amazing thing. Then it's more about overall leading up to that, try to bank as much sleep as you can. Then afterwards it's going to even itself out. If it's a night here or there or even prior to a lot of athletes have a hard time sleeping prior to an event and then they think how am I going to perform? One night is not going to make a big difference but you want to make sure leading up to it that your sleep is in good shape.
Sarah: Okay good. One final question. Let's talk sweating. Numerous women asked about sweating profusely at night and not just women around menopausal age. We had a lot of women who were in their 30s asking this question. You were was saying they do things that should make it so they're not ... They're sleeping in a pretty cool room light sheets like comforter, light night gown. This whole thing, wake up and they're just drenched. Several of them said they'd had their hormone levels checked but they come back normal. One of them said what the heck is happening?
Ellen: That can be a sign of a lot of things. Night sweats I would ... There's something to investigate and it can be a sign of sleep apnea actually because your body when your airway is obstructed at night, your oxygen level drops your brain thinks it's an emergency it'll put you into fight or flight. You can have an increased heart rate and you can have sweating. That's something to think about. Sometimes it's related to during dream sleep our temperature regulation is not working well. Then when we come out of it, it may ... Thermostat kicks on and it may need to cool you quickly. You could have some sweating related to dream sleep. It is difficult to manage because then once you sweat sometimes you're cool because it's cooled you off too effectively but you still feel uncomfortable. I think all of those things you mentioned are good. Managing your covers so that you can easily add or subtract things. That's helpful. They do make some products that help with it too. One that I personally use is the chilly pad because it's a little mattress cover that has water tubes in it.
Ellen: You can set it anywhere from 55° to 110. A lot of the mattresses nowadays, they trap heat. I don't know if you ... The materials that we're making them out of, you get hot underneath. I know I would wake up consistently three or four in the morning just feeling like I was laying on a bed of coals, since I got the chilly pad that has helped quite a bit actually to keep me comfortable because I'll set it nice and low 61. I like mine. I'm laying in my little frozen chamber over there.
Sarah: You don't get too cold.
Ellen: No. I have a little blanket that I can tuck under if certain areas are getting chilly.
Sarah: Princess Ellen has to have it just so-
Ellen: Of course she does, but it sounds wonderful.
Sarah: I'm terrible.
Molly: Do you love your chili pad?
Ellen: I love my chilly pad.
Molly: I'm going to investigate chilly pad.
Sarah: There are so many new bed and sleeping products that can help with temperature regulation, with comfort, with if you're a side sleeper versus a back sleeper and that type of thing. It is good to be aware of those things. Well, I got to say Ellen, we did not even begin to get through all the questions we had for you, but we're going to let you go. I don't know. I'm thinking we might have to have sleep podcast part two sometime in the future.
Ellen: I would love that. I'd be happy to come back.
Sarah: Good. Thanks. It's been a pleasure talking with you. Thanks.
Ellen: You too, sleep well.
Sarah: Thank you. Bye bye.
Molly: Thanks bye.
Sarah: Our next guest is professional long distance runners, Stephanie Bruce. Stephanie is coming off a stellar 2018. She won her first US national 10 K title in a personal best time of 3221 at the Peachtree Road Race on July 4th. Then in early December after racing a marathon just four weeks prior, Stephanie set her marathon PR of 22920. Let's hear miles by having second place at the US Marathon Championships at California International Marathon. Stephanie is a mom of two young boys and she's always very candid about her pregnancy, post-pregnancy comebacks, her training and her recovery. Welcome back to the show Stephanie.
Stephanie: Thanks so much for having me Sarah.
Molly: Stephanie, you are quite the athlete. Remind us how old your sons are.
Stephanie: They are three and four. My son Riley is four years old and Hudson is three years old.
Molly: Very nice.
Sarah: Preschool or not yet.
Stephanie: They've been in a daycare since they were six months and 13 months old. It's basically a really great preparation for kindergarten.
Sarah: Good. Good, good, good. It gives you a little more free time to record podcasts say.
Stephanie: Exactly. Exactly. It's the only way we could be doing this.
Sarah: You had a banner 2018. Congratulations. What tangibles do you "tangibles" do you credit with hitting those personal best? Nutrition, training methods, strength training, recovery, what do you point toward?
Stephanie: I would probably have to say the biggest overarching theme was consistency. It was the first time that since I had had my two sons, I had been training for about a good two years and I had stayed healthy the whole time. I had no injuries no setbacks. I think it was just accumulation of all the training finally catching up to me, and it was no longer I'm being cautious coming back into training like I was the first couple of years postpartum. Now it was, okay how hard can I train and how many miles can I run? Can my body be strong enough to handle it? Then obviously what came along with that is just, I was able to lift more in the gym, so strength training obviously increase. That made me faster and more powerful. Just little things I was finally back to leading a life that a professional runner, versus a new postpartum mom where my priorities were shifted and they worked for the babies first and then they work for me. Now it was the other way around.
Sarah: Good, good, good.
Molly: How about grit? That word seems to resonate with you pretty strongly. Can you tell us what it means to you?
Stephanie: Sure. Last year when I was training for the New York Marathon, it was my 9th year running as a pro. I got to thinking at this point in my career with so many things going on and having two small children, what was still motivating me to get out the door and to put it in these 22 mile long grueling runs. To wake up every day excited to do what I do. I had read the book by Angela Duckworth, Grit. She just has some great ... The way that she described grit and the meaning. One quote that I loved, I think it said something like each is chasing something of unparalleled interest and importance. It was the chase as much as the capture that was gratifying. It made me think about this whole, it's not the destination it's the journey. I think that was so true and that resonated with me a little bit. Then I just started to share in my personal life some things that had happened to me with my father passing away when I was growing up. Then my mom got diagnosed with late stage breast cancer a few years ago.
Stephanie: I had all of these personal things happening while I was trying to raise babies and run professionally. I'm like don't we all need some meanings to attach what we're doing too. Grit just became that word. Then I found that other people it resonated with them so well. It was cool. Everyone had their own story I guess of grit. That's where it launched.
Sarah: Awesome, awesome. We could talk all day with you about your training and mental strategies which we would love to do, but we did bring you on to talk about sleep. Like with Ellen, we gathered questions from Facebook for you to answer. Here's one from Dale who wrote, I often have insomnia and it gets awful the night of my rest day. How could I help this? Do you find that you sleep differently after an easy I think that's very much in quotation marks for a professional runner, but an easier training day versus an especially challenging one.
Stephanie: I do. I think that is huge. It's like a cycle that we go through in a week. We'll have two to three hard days and four to five easy days. I find the nights of my hard workouts I don't sleep as well at all. I think that is a couple of factors. Just after a hard workout, your stress hormones and your TSH which is your thyroid, they're just so elevated that your body is in this constant state of stress. It cannot really mellow out. It is very heightened. Oftentimes I'll have nights where I'm just restless and tossing and turning. Then the great thing is I nap every day and so then I have a chance to catch up the next day, and then usually the easy day I will sleep really well. You can correlate a lot that with your heart rate too.
Stephanie: You had a hard workout and you took your heart rate let's say later in that day, I would bet that it is much higher resting than the next day when you had an easy recovery run and you took your heart rate again. You would probably see that fall a couple of weeks.
Sarah: A side note. When you take a nap since it sounds like it's something you regularly do, do you get in bed to take a nap or just do you nap wherever you are find yourself?
Stephanie: No. I get in bed. I'm pretty strict about my routines, and I think it's really important to keep that sleep routine consistent. I'll nap around the same time every day, especially because my kids they nap as well. That's been I think how our family functions. How my husband and I are able to train full-time, and how my kids are able to be on such a great schedule that they nap between 1:00 and 3:00 every day. I try to tailor that same timeframe for my nap.
Sarah: Don't call the Bruce household between 1:00 and 3:00.
Sarah: PM, Pacific daylight.
Molly: Then how much sleep do you get at night?
Stephanie: I aim for 8 to 10 hours a night. 10 would be pretty remarkable. The way I do it with the kids is since I know when they're going to wake up, I backtrack and think okay. How many hours of sleep do I need? I need to go to bed by this time knowing that they're going to be up between 6:00 and 6:30, so I ensure that I'm in bed by 9:00 PM. I control that.
Molly: 8:00 to 10:00 at night, then plus the two hour nap.
Stephanie: Sorry. I don't actually sleep those full two hours. That's the window that they would be sleeping. I usually shoot for 30 to 50 minutes, and then that other hour that they're hopefully asleep is when I get house work done.
Molly: Well, still you are my sleep hero. I'm going to put a poster of you up in my bedroom just as aspirations for sleep. That's great. April is curious if sleep impacts the level of intensity of a workout. Should she or do you shorten or adjust your workout if you have had a shortened or restless night of sleep the night before?
Stephanie: That's an interesting question. I would say when I was newly postpartum, I definitely tailored my sleep based on, excuse me. I tailor my workouts based on the sleep because those first couple of months when you're breastfeeding you're having very interrupted sleep cycles. They are probably not going through your RAM cycle. There would be some days where I'd show up to practice and I'd have to tell my coach, hey, Riley had a really bad night so I only slept three and a half hours. We would just push my workout the next day. Then as they grew older and I learned the importance of the cumulative effect of sleep, it matters more what a two week cycle of sleep looks like versus snapshot of one night. I think you can get away with not really changing your training if you just have one poor night of sleep out of 10 or 14 nights.
Molly: That's a really good point, a sleep cycle of a couple of weeks. That makes sense. We asked the previous guests about night sweats. Do you suffer from them and what is your solution for them? I know I have them, but what do you do?
Stephanie: I actually used to get them a lot in my career quite a bit for probably like six to eight years. I didn't really understand them. Then it was pretty cool. Last year I started partnering with Bedgear. What I found with that company was they were developing this technology with sleep that their mattresses and their pillows and their comforters are cool to the touch. The whole idea is it deflects heat away from your body so you don't actually get that night sweats, because I was trying to figure out all these things. I'm like, what am I doing wrong at nighttime? Is it a temperature of my room? Is it my hydration levels? It's crazy how it was just my sleep environment. A lot of people will, when you need a pair of running shoes what do you do? You'll go to the store and you'll try on eight pairs of shoes and you're like I need the best training shoe.
Stephanie: Nobody thinks how we actually get better at running and sleeping. Everyone actually thinks that we get better when we're doing the workout. You don't get better during the workout. You actually get better that night when you sleep. I know that that's hard for some people to wrap their head around. I felt like earlier in my career I was missing a big component of my sleep routine. I was lucky to align with the company like Bedgear who shared my philosophy of how important sleep was with recovery.
Molly: Those cool sheets and pillows, are they just like cool to the touch? Do they have some technology like water or something that cools them or?
Stephanie: It's both. Like one of the blankets I use, I believe it's the vertex blanket. It is cool to the touch and it actually just wiks wicks away heat. That's the material that's in it. It moves that moisture away from your body because at nighttime, your body tends to rise in temperature as it's trying to get to its homeostasis level. When that happens, that's going to create that nights sweat feeling. Just having a sleep environment with these types of sheets and blankets, it's literally just moving that away from the body. You're not getting that hot and heated effect.
Molly: You still feel warm and cozy when you get in bed?
Stephanie: No actually. It's funny. I actually do feel chilly right when I get in bed, but it's like a good chilly. It's hard to explain. It feels nice to be like, now I want to cuddle up under the blanket. Even in the summer which is really cool. To actually feels cool when the temperature outside is warm.
Sarah: With the previous guest, we were also talking about wind-down rituals and setting yourself up to have a good night's sleep. On our Facebook page, both Kate and Jessica were curious about wind-down rituals. Any advice or care to share any of your bedtime routines? What tells your mind at that nine o'clock, hey, it's time for me to shut down here.
Stephanie: Sure. I have a few. For myself the biggest thing is screen time. Get off your cell phones, get off computers. Stop having that light in front of your face for the last hour before sleep. I think that's huge. Then for my kids, we have a routine where we'll do bath time then they like to eat cut up apples and then we read two or three stories. That's just a routine that they're so used to that sometimes we'll be reading to them, and we're about to put them to sleep and they're like our apples. They get mad at us if we [crosstalk 00:48:23] apples. I'm like, how crazy that I got my kids to be addicted to apples. They don't even know how healthy that is right now. They get like livid, they're like, "We don't have our apples." That's great because then they can expect, I think their body knows now we're getting ready for sleep. Then after I put them to sleep, I like to listen to ... I do some head space meditation, and I try to do that every day even if it's like five to seven minutes.
Stephanie: I'll admit. I definitely don't adhere to it as best as I can, but it definitely is just a way to unplug and de-stress and not think about whatever you have to do tomorrow or things that happen to you today.
Molly: Do you read or do you just go to bed after meditating?
Stephanie: I do read, but I have a big rule of no reading in bed. I think there are two things. I don't know if you've heard this, but things to do in bed. I didn't know how PG this podcast-
Sarah: It's fine.
Molly: It's okay. Sleep and not sleep, those are the two things.
Stephanie: Exactly. I don't read in bed. I'll try to read during the day usually.
Molly: I try not to read anything too energizing at night. I can't read anything scary or spy I guess.
Sarah: No thrillers.
Molly: I like a nice boring book, but I do like boring books anyway.
Sarah: I talked to one woman who was ... She said she keeps her book by her bed specifically for reading before bed or if she wakes up in the middle of night. That's just pabulum, that's kind of a bland book. For a while, I kept I'm Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express because-
Molly: That'd do it.
Sarah: Did you say that out loud? Now for a bunch of questions relating to sleep and racing, on our Facebook page Halle said her old cross country coach told her it's okay if you don't get good sleep the night before a big race because of pre-race jitters. It is really the sleep you get two nights before an event that matters. Do you find that to be the case Stephanie?
Stephanie: Yeah. I think the two nights before just made people feel at ease if they couldn't sleep the night before but-
Sarah: You're calling BS on that one.
Stephanie: Exactly, because then you have these people like, oh my gosh. I had a flight delay and I didn't get in until midnight so I didn't sleep well.
Sarah: Two nights before.
Stephanie: I think it goes back to what I was saying with the cumulative effect. If you have good sleep habits and you're sleeping consistently and well for the weeks before a competition, you're doing a great job. I really don't think those couple nights before are going to affect you too much. It is hard to shut off your mind. You are playing the race in your head and you're thinking about little things that are going to come up. That happens for me. The night before a marathon, I don't sleep very much because I'm ... Even though I should shut my brain off, I'm still thinking about scenarios of how the race could play out. I'm confident because I know that I've been sleeping well the days and weeks leading into the race.
Molly: The adrenaline [inaudible 00:51:35] events is going to pull you through.
Stephanie: For sure.
Molly: You never fell asleep during a race.
Molly: No. There you go.
Sarah: Jolene asks about traveling to races. How to adjust to changes and time zone when traveling so you can still find the energy to get your workout in or perform at a destination race. That question, for you how do you adjust a time zone? I know that you are basically in the same ... You're in the same time zone when you set that PR at CIM. Then there you are. You're in a hotel. I know you travel with a bed gear little pillow for your sons. You don't take your bedding and your pillows and all that stuff with you?
Stephanie: Well, this is a great question because I actually just came back from Denmark. I ran the world cross country championships over there. I did take my pillow actually. I have what's called ... I have a galaxy pillow and that thing came with me. Because sometimes when you have something that is so comfortable to you and you're used to, and you have the unknowns of what a hotel pillow could be like. Just having something like that was enough for me to feel like I could get pretty good sleep in a really foreign time zone. Then we're actually going to London in a few weeks with the boys. We will pack all four pillows in the Bruce suitcase. It's just one thing. It's going to look hilarious, but-
Sarah: At least it doesn't weigh you down. It's not lightweight.
Molly: Do you have items to declare? Some pillows.
Stephanie: Some pillows. They're like, you Americans.
Molly: We'll be checking the stuff.
Stephanie: Exactly. Usually I put it in my backpack so it's carry on. I think what's so great is looking at that trip coming up with kids. It's going to be a real challenge to get them on a normal schedule, because I can't explain to them time change and why they feel tired in the middle of the day. If they have something like they know they have their pillow with them at least that can be like, hey guys you have this. Maybe the smell of it, the feel of it, it can just be like a little comforting and maybe that helps them go to sleep better when we're traveling.
Sarah: The family lovies. You all have your-
Molly: Don't forget the apples.
Stephanie: Yes. The apples, I better not. You're right.
Molly: Your gateway drug to grapes and cantaloupe and just going down that path, aren't you?
Stephanie: Yes. What I didn't answer is the actual adjusting to time zone. Typically they say it's a day for every hour time zone that you're going to. What's challenging is I was just in an eight hour different time zone. They would say eight days and I wasn't even there eight days. I think if you can just slowly start changing your clock before you leave like either going to bed earlier, waking up earlier, you can really trick the body. The biggest thing is when you get over to a new time zone, really welcome in light. When it's day time, surround yourself by natural light, and then do your best to not think about what time it is at home when it's nighttime.
Sarah: Truer words were never said. People who are always like, well, it's really actually 11 at night. I'm like yeah, but I don't care. You're in California so it's 8:00 o'clock.
Sarah: It's all the same thing about like, I don't know complaining about it raining. Complaining about it it's not going to make the rain stop. Just suck it up buttercup. All right, one final question. It's from I think it's pronounced Megan. Question on the surface sounds a bit wacky, but I don't know. Maybe it's a secret that pros practice. I thought I'd check it out with you. She said she's heard people recommend waking up way early, on race day to eat and then go back to bed until normal prep time. Do you wake up at, I don't know 1:00 am to eat a light meal and then go back to sleep or is that crazy talk?
Stephanie: I don't want to throw someone under the bus, but it's a little crazy talk to me just because my principal has always been, you shouldn't feel hungry the morning of your race of the marathon because that means you probably weren't properly fueled going in. If you have all your glycogen storages topped off, you almost are like, I guess I have to eat this morning now, but it's more just doing it for routine. I would say if you feel like you have to wake up, you probably maybe did something not cracking those days leading up. For me getting up four hours before a marathon is ample time where I'll eat a bowl of white rice, a Picky Bar and coffee in four hours. That's plenty to have a couple hundred calories before the marathon.
Sarah: I have to ask that coffee, is it to ensure that things get moving before the race starts?
Sarah: Yes. All right, because we love TMI. Feel free to over share with us anything at this point.
Stephanie: Then I think you want it small enough to get your digestion going, but you don't want too much coffee because you really don't, before a marathon you don't really want to be amped anyway. You want to be pretty relaxed on that starting line because you have a long way.
Sarah: Well Stephanie, thank you so much for chatting with us, always a pleasure.
Stephanie: You are so welcome. It was great fun.
Molly: Safe travels.
Sarah: Thanks. We look forward to having you take over our Instagram account on the day this comes out. I want to alert people to that.
Sarah: Good deal. All right, thanks Stephanie.
Stephanie: Thank you.