The Sleep Equation

It is Monday morning and I should be at the gym finishing off my first training session of the week. Instead I am lounging in my living room in my pajamas, where the heaviest thing I’ve lifted was my coffee mug. My intention was to go to the gym this morning. Last night, I prepped my training log, filled my water bottle, and made sure my gym bag was ready to go. What I didn’t count on was laying in bed for hours with a mind that would tiptoe right up to the edge of sleep only to dash down a rabbit hole of thought instead of welcoming the darkness. That process repeated itself for hours…almost asleep and then thoughts racing off in a completely different and random direction.

Even my trusty go-to method of quieting my mind for sleep failed me last night. I shall explain this method if you promise not to laugh. Scratch that. I’m certain that you will laugh, and that’s okay. I am not ashamed of being a huge Star Wars geek.

When I have trouble sleeping, I begin to create Star Wars stories in my mind as I lay in bed. Sometimes my ideas come from previous dreams (yes, I do occasionally dream Star Wars), while some ideas come years of reading about and imaging the Star Wars universe post-original movies. I begin by setting the scene and characters and usually fall asleep well before I can get around to enlarging the scene with action. Night after night, I repeat the process, setting the scene from the beginning and fall asleep shortly after. My stories seldom progress very far and almost never reach a conclusion. The goal isn’t the story but sleep, and this activity somehow takes all my mental threads of thought and twists them into a solitary rope that I can follow into dreamland.

But not last night. At the first sign of difficulty in falling asleep, I began setting my scene. In the usual fashion, my mind would shortly begin to drift towards darkness, but then darkness would shatter as my thoughts would veer in a different direction. Instead of my Star Wars lullaby, I’d be thinking about work or training or Nationals or my son’s dead fish or the mild throb in my shoulder or dinner for the next week or the bills I have to pay or the hip pain from 3 years ago or how odd it is to be in a pitch black room with eyes closed yet ‘seeing’ bright light inside my head. No matter how many times I would set the scene all over again, the result was the same. Tiptoe up to the edge of sleep. Retreat at full speed.

When my bladder woke me a couple of minutes before my alarm was set to blare, I debated with myself. Get up and go to the gym as planned or delay the gym until tomorrow and get a bit more sleep today. In the past I didn’t have the ability to even make such a last minute change to my training, because my training time was coordinated with my coach’s availability. Now that I train by myself, I do have more flexibility, but I still need to make sure that I get my training done, especially with a competition on the horizon. In the span of a minute or two, while still half-asleep, I mentally looked at my schedule and shuffled things around. Yes. It would work. So, I opted to stumble to the bathroom quickly and then crawl back into bed for another 40 minutes or so. Although I still would have had time to get to the gym this morning, I think the best decision is to wait until tomorrow. My shoulder is mildly achy. I did not get much sleep at all and what I got was not of great quality. I can tackle Week 10, Day 1 tomorrow.


The Owner’s Manual


Early this year I began writing my owner’s manual. The concept arose from a course of sorts that I was involved in through Precision Nutrition, but I took the concept and broadened it beyond nutrition and fitness. Circumstance dictated that I abandon that course a few months ago, and my manual sat untouched in a pile of my notebooks up until a few days ago. As I purged living room clutter, I dusted off my manual, flipped through the pages, and added a few more things to the pages. It is time to get back to my owner’s manual!

So what is in my owner’s manual?

There is a little bit of everything. I cannot claim to have come up with all the information on my own. Most, if not all, of the information comes from other sources. The information captured my attention in some way. It might be about healthy, balanced nutrition habits. It could be about creating and maintaining good habits. There is information on my personality types (plural because I fit equally into two types). Setting goals. Sleep habits. Values. Stress. Scripture. Mindset. Body composition numbers taken in January of this year. That sounds like a lot of information, yet there are so many pages yet to fill in my notebook.

My owner’s manual isn’t an instruction book on how to fix or operate Angela Thompson. It does not say, “If you wave salted caramel in front of her, she will do your bidding forever.” It also does not say, “If awake before 7:00 AM, do not approach. Do not attempt to engage in conversation.” This owner’s manual is not for others to use; it is for me. My owner’s manual is like a tool box in which I keep facts and reminders which help me be the best version of myself. Sometimes, like lately, I forget about my manual and those facts become less distinct, the reminders lost in the endless cycle of life. My happiness and sense of peace are not dependent on perfect adherence to my manual. I’ve been quite happy and peaceful these past few months that I’ve ignored it; however, I know from experience that living out the principles within my manual can also result in goodness all over.

This short sabbatical has been nice, but I am ready to refocus on what works best for me in terms of what keeps me healthiest mentally, spiritually, and physically. This is why I have an owner’s manual. Well, that and I really like notebooks and lists.


The Monday-Friday Mind Meld

It’s my Monday and the first of my two early morning shifts. Tomorrow is the early, early shift, and I flip to closing shifts for the rest of my week. As much as I am a night owl, I really do enjoy the open shifts. Today was a busy morning, like really busy, but it still felt like a decent day. After work, I hurried home to change and gather my gear, drove my daughter to a friend’s, and hit the gym. I had barely returned home when my husband asked me to go for a drive with him, a drive that would end up including dinner. Now I am finally home and able to recline, relax, and decompress from the entire day. The yawns appeared during dinner, and I took my contacts out almost as soon as we walked in the door. Ideally, I’d like to be in bed in two hours, because I like my sleep. My husband wants to watch a movie. How much sleep will I get tonight?

1. competition bench press (2-2×0) 5-7 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 10, 65 x 7, 85 x 7

main event: 100 lbs x 7, 100 x 7, 100 x 7

2. low bar squats (3-0x0) 5-7 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6, 135 x 5

main event: 145 lbs x 7, 145 x 7, 145 x 5

The final set was where I felt some fatigue. I paused a moment, considering going for another rep or two to max out the set, but ultimately felt it wisest to stop.

3. close grip bench (3-1×0) 6-8 reps

95 lbs x 8, 95 x 8, 95 x 6

These felt better, easier than last week, and that shows with an increase in the reps I did compared to last week.

4a. back extensions

20 lbs x 12, 20 lbs x 13

4b. side planks

x 30 seconds each side, x 20 seconds each side

And now it looks like we’re watching the new King Kong movie…

The Workout Before Work

After starting my training week on a Tuesday for the past couple of weeks, part of me really struggled with the decision to go to the gym this Monday morning. The struggle was even harder after a less than stellar night’s sleep, but I actually did set an alarm for this morning and forced myself to get up and moving. My goal was to get to the gym at least 15 minutes earlier than I tend to arrive. My ‘day one’ sessions typically require the most time to get through my program, and I have a limited amount of time available for training and such before going to work. It’s a small thing, but I’m proud of myself for getting to the gym by 8:45 this morning, especially since my alarm was set for 8:05. Although some weeks it makes sense to start my training week on a Tuesday, I am glad that I pushed myself to get it done today. I am glad that I pushed myself to start just a little bit earlier than usual. Even though some of the weights and/or sets increased, I am glad that I pushed through the fear and uncertainty and mild discomfort to do all that I was absolutely capable of doing. While I’m not afraid to work hard in the gym, sometimes I can forget just how much I can do.

1. competition squats (2-0x0) 4-6 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6, 135 x 5, 155 x 4

main event, with belt: 170 lbs x 6, 170 x 6, 170 x 6, 170 x 6, 170 x 6

2. competition bench (2-1×0) 4-6 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 6, 85 x 6, 100 x 3

main event: 110 x 6, 110 x 6, 110 x 6, 110 x 6

3. front squats (3-1×0) 8-12 reps

75 lbs x 10, 75 x 10, 75 x 10

4. glute bridges

105 lbs x 15 x 3 sets

5. chest supported rows

55 lbs x 12, 55 x 10, 55 x 9

As best as I can tell, my gym has only one chest supported row device. As I walked up to it today, I saw that there were four 45 pound plates left on it and no one nearby. I wandered over to ask the one guy in the weight area who actually looked capable of using that much weight if he was using that piece of equipment. He wasn’t, but he was kind enough to help me remove the plates. I’m a little surprised by how happy it made me feel when I had to stop my helper from removing the last plate, and that happiness spiked just a little bit more as I grabbed a 10 pound plate to add to it. So in truth, my rows aren’t anything to get excited about, but I get a kick out of being stronger than expected by others.

I am super proud of myself for putting in the work and crushing it! Today’s total weight moved was 20, 205 pounds…almost 3000 pounds more than last week’s day one! And oddly enough, I don’t feel nearly as exhausted right now as I did last week.

10 Hours?!

It’s almost as if my body is gunning for new personal records when it comes to how many hours of sleep it can get while still being physically exhausted. I was yawning by 3pm yesterday. Last night I had 10 hours of sleep. Yes, I said TEN! While sleep is as precious to me asĀ the ring is to Gollum, ten hours of sleep is excessive and not my normal. The trend of waking up reluctantly and still in need of sleep continues. It is now 11:00am, and I desperately want to close my eyes for a long winter’s nap, which would be quite easy to do since I am already practically horizontal. But I start work in two hours. I could be, should be productive with my time between now and then. Ha!

The only thing that did get me out of bed this morning was the fact that I had to go to the gym. At this point, I don’t think I am sick enough to skip going to the gym; however, I feel sick enough to recognize that my performance might be impacted.

1. competition bench (2-2×0) 5-7 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 7

main event: 90 lbs x 7, 90 x 7, 90 x 7

These felt solid today and easier than Thursday’s bench at the same weight. Of course, Thursday’s sets had a different tempo (3-1×0), which could possibly explain the tougher feeling; however, the pause was longer today. I don’t know! Today was a good bench day, I guess.

2. competition squat (3-0x0) 5-7 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 95 x 7

main event: 125 lbs x 7, 125 x 7, 125 x 7

The working sets today were 20 pounds heavier than the previous weeks, so I was anticipating a more difficult experience than what I had. The warm up sets felt okay, but the first working set actually felt better than the warm ups. Of course, the weight wasn’t really all that heavy. Sometimes I have to remind myself of what I can actually do.

3. close grip bench (3-1×0) 6-8 reps

90 lbs x 8, 90 x 8, 90 x 8

These were also decent today, although probably an RPE of 8/9 by the final rep each set.

4a. back extensions

x 13, x 12

4b. leg raises

x 15, x 12

Whatever battle is going on inside of my body, I sure hope it resolves itself before Day 1 of next week’s training week. Day 1 tends to be the day that takes the longest amount of time to complete and takes the most out of me physically. Actually, I’m thinking of pushing Monday’s training to Tuesday again next week, because Monday is a holiday. I start work earlier than usual that day and the gym’s hours are reduced, which would mean I’d be rushed and stressed trying to get my training done before work. Right now, I think I can squeeze in a short nap before work…I need it.

Of Exhaustion and an Ear

It was difficult to get out of bed again this morning, even after more than 9 hours of sleep. My sleep quality was a little less than the previous night but still a respectable 75%. Some eucalyptus helped with the nasal congestion, but I could still feel that lingering headache. Then my right ear began to bother me at some point in the night. I wear earplugs when I sleep, because I cannot fall asleep with noise or snoring. There was occasional painful pressure in the right ear which had me wanting to remove the earplug; however, the snoring beside me wouldn’t allow me to fall back asleep if I did. Right now I feel nothing in my ear, so I’m not sure if that was just a random experience or a part of whatever is trying to attack my body. At any rate, I slept until almost 8:30 and honestly could have stayed in bed to sleep some more, but I had to go to the gym.

1. deadlifts (2-2×1) 4-6 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 10, 95 x 8, 135 x 4, 165 x 3

main event, with belt: 190 x 6, 190 x 6, 190 x 6, 190 x 4

Generally these felt good. I did feel a little exhausted by the third working set, but I was mentally prepared to go the distance on the final set. The first rep of the final set felt strong, so I thought I’d be able to get the full six reps. Take my little pause before the fifth rep, breathe and create tension, and realize that I can’t. No tension. No lift.

2. competition bench (3-1×0) 6-8 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 8

main event: 90 lbs x 6, 90 x 6, 90 x 6

These felt okay for the first few reps of each set, but the sixth rep always felt like an RPE of 9. It was possible that I could have squeaked out at least one more rep each set, but the likelihood of finding myself unable to press that extra rep was just as possible.

3. stiff leg deadlifts (3-1×0) 8-12 reps

115 lbs x 10, 115 x 8, 115 x 6

I should have been able to do more here, but I dropped reps because of fatigue and the arrival of some aching in my lower back. The lower back has been feeling pretty good lately and was fine until the stiff legged deadlifts.

4. barbell shoulder press (2-0x1) 8-12 reps

45 lbs x 12, 50 lbs x 8

It’s been a while since I’ve done overhead pressing, and overhead pressing is not something I enjoy or excel at, which meant that I wasn’t completely sure where to begin in terms of weight. My coach left the weight blank for me to decide. That’s a good thing since he doesn’t know how much I suck at them, but then it leaves me to decide whether I want to play it conservatively or push myself. Oh boy! I did flip through my old training logs to see what I have done in the past, so I knew that I’ve not done a heck of a lot of multiple sets of high reps with significant weight. Play it conservatively, Angela! And that’s what I did. I used just the bar for the first set and managed to max out on the reps. It felt okay, but I could also tell that my shoulders were fatiguing by the final rep. I had thought about sticking to the same weight for the final set, but I figured an extra 5 pounds should be a reasonable increase.

5. plank

x 37 seconds, x 40 seconds


Big S, Little S

I love Doctor Seuss. For whatever unexplainable reason, I shall never forgot this:

Big S, little S, what begins with S? Silly Sammy Slick sipped six sodas and got sick, sick, sick!

I rarely get sick. Occasionally I will get mild symptoms of a cold that linger for a few days before fading silently into oblivion. The last time I was actually knocked out by a flu was at the very end of December 2010, which I only remember because I was registered to run in The Running Room’s 5K Resolution Run on January 1st and I was worried that I might not be well enough to take part. While I may not have been fully recovered by New Year’s Day, I did run and did okay. My previous bout with a flu was several years earlier. While I cannot remember the year, I do know that I missed some of my son’s hockey tournament because I was too sick to get off the couch. Before that I don’t remember being sick aside from repeated gallbladder attacks while pregnant in 1995. I might get a stuffy nose or a sore throat, maybe a slight cough, but I seldom miss a beat in terms of energy or ability to perform.

The back of my throat began to feel sore and scratchy Sunday afternoon while I was at work. It wasn’t super bad, more of an annoyance than a problem; however, the throat was the same, possibly even slightly worse the next day and the next. The nasal congestion arrived on Monday. A dry, sore throat and a stuffed up nose are not conducive for a good night’s sleep, so I haven’t been sleeping well for a few nights now. My ability to function hasn’t been hampered, although I have had to resort to the occasional throat lozenge at work to keep my throat moist enough to allow me to talk without coughing. Yesterday at the gym I squatted, pressed, glute bridged, and rowed more than 15 000 pounds, which left me feeling a little exhausted but otherwise okay. I guess I had thought that I might struggle more since I was tired and “under the weather”, but I reasoned that I don’t get truly sick.

Today and tomorrow are my days off. Since I trained yesterday, I knew that I wouldn’t be going to the gym today like usual but on Thursday instead, allowing me the luxury of foregoing an alarm and sleeping as long as my body would let me. I wasn’t expecting to sleep much past 8 at the latest, because, after years of starting work around 5:00 AM, my body has become conditioned to waking up around 4AM and staying awake around 7AM. It has taken almost a year to re-train my body to simply roll over and resume sleeping when it wakes up at 4, but the ability to sleep past 7 has been much harder to achieve. Except for today.

Last night I had 9 hours of sleep! It is quite normal for me to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. (My average is actually 8 hours and 25 minutes, which I know from my Sleep Cycle app.) Although I finally dragged myself out of bed at 8:46, the temptation to stay in bed, roll over, and go back to sleep was intense. Considering the sore throat and stuffy nose, my quality of sleep last night was actually decent…it just didn’t seem like enough. For the first time in longer than I can remember, I probably could have slept the morning away. But I didn’t. I got up, made coffee, and had a bath. I started on the laundry, including my bedding which the cat had thrown up on the night before that I didn’t discover until I was about to crawl into bed and couldn’t be bothered to deal with in the moment, except to wipe it up and throw a towel over the wet spot. Yes, I did.

Mid-morning I began to feel the stirrings of a headache, but it was low grade and nothing I thought I’d need to get worked up about. On a 1-10 scale, it was only a one. A couple of hours later, that headache went from 1 to 100 in about 10 minutes. Now I don’t like to pop pills unnecessarily and will avoid taking anything if possible, but the headache was screaming and only getting louder. I took an Ibuprofen and began to feel some relief within 20-30 minutes. Even now at the end of the night, I can still feel the headache lingering just below the surface, simmering away at a 1 again. The throat isn’t sore like it had been the previous days, but it feels swollen when I swallow. The nose is still mostly stuffy. Do I feel sick? Not really. Yes, I’ve got a couple of minor symptoms. I feel wiped out today, but I wouldn’t define myself as being sick.

I should have another 8+ hours of sleep tonight with no alarm in the morning. Hopefully my sleep quality will be decent. At some point tomorrow morning I will go to the gym for some deadlifts and bench press. Oh, and overhead pressing…which is not a favourite and I’m not excited about at all. I have grand illusions to plan dinners for the next several days, including some of my upcoming closing shifts when I won’t be home to make dinner. It’s time to get my eating habits under control again, which is both exciting and desirable but also slightly overwhelming when I look at how many nights I close each week. But that’s a blog post for another day.