There are people in the world who suffer from insomnia. Others are afflicted by night terrors. Still others are the prey of their nightmares. There are people who work nights and have to try to sleep during the day. And what about those who simply don’t have enough hours in the day to fit in one full-time and two part-time jobs, and some sleep? I feel for all of these people. Everyone (making an assumption here) knows what it is to pull an all-nighter and then have to keep going without sleep through your next workday or college classes or what have you. If you haven’t experienced this yet, you will. That’s a guarantee. Sleep is essential. It helps your body heal and function properly. Ask any doctor, and they’ll tell you that we, as a society, don’t get enough sleep in general. Doctors certainly don’t get enough sleep! How much sleep do you need, though? There’s a range, of course, and it differs for every person, but 6-8 hours of sleep is a good bet to start.
I read an interesting article in a medical magazine once that compared sleep deprivation to alcohol intoxication. Going a certain number of hours without sleep was the same as having a certain number of alcoholic drinks, and had the same level of impairment on one’s thinking and judgment. The article made quite a few comparisons and made clear the point that, at some point, sleep deprivation was the same as being completely inebriated, and this was dangerous to both the person and others because people still attempt to drive and perform similarly dangerous tasks when sleep-deprived! My doctor told me that, when he was doing his medical training, he had fallen asleep at a stop light one time while driving. He took the bus from then on because he realized that he could run over someone or make a bad decision due to his lack of sleep. Smart man.
Now, how does sleep deprivation relate to climbing? Well, for starters, if you’re not sleeping, you’re not going to be as alert as you need to be while climbing or belaying, and that’s life-and-death! Second, you won’t be able to pay attention to your gear or where you’re going, so you’ll either lose stuff, or could get lost yourself! Third, your body isn’t going to recover between climbing days like it needs to. Sleep is a state of being during which your body repairs itself. If you just tore your body to shreds climbing and hiking the approaches all day, then a sleepless night before another day of the same is not going to treat you well! I can personally attest to that!!! I put my body through a hard day of hiking the approaches and climbing in Ten Sleep Canyon last summer, then couldn’t run my BiPAP because I had not recharged my battery and had to try (unsuccessfully) to sleep in my truck that night as not to disturb my tent mates before the next grueling day of steep approaches and climbing. I didn’t do well. I was dizzy, disoriented, dehydrated, fatigued, off-balance, nauseous, suffering from a headache behind my eyes, and generally a hurting unit that whole day. My joints were killing me and no amount of Extra Strength Tylenol was going to fix my pain! Needless to say, it didn’t do anything for my climbing ability!!! I actually feel like I missed out on that whole day simply because I couldn’t sleep properly the night before! Sleep is critical! It’s a crucial part of life and we need to work out our plans to make sure it happens each and every night! If you need to take a nap, take a nap! Find a shady spot near the crag, lay your head on your pack, and take a nap for a bit. Or nap in the sunshine (just remember to use some sunscreen or other protection so you don’t end up crispy when you wake up!). There’s nothing wrong with taking a break if you need one, especially on a multi-day climbing trip. You may think that taking a nap is climbing time lost, but you’ll find that your climbing might actually be of better quality, and that may certainly make up for any losses in attempts made and be replaced with completed ascents! Trust me, it’s okay to get some rest!!! Getting some rest doesn’t mean you’re not young and strong – it means you’re smart! Know your limits and work with them. You’ll have a much better time climbing if your body and your mind are well-rested. Think of it as injury-prevention if you must, and take care of yourself. Listen to your body!!! If you do, you’re sure to have a better experience!