Set your watch to win at sleep

Devices, such as the Garmin Forerunner 735XT, can help you improve your fitness when your eyes are closed

August 15th, 2019 by | Posted in Health+Nutrition | Tags: ,

by Cheryl MacLachlan

In my basement is a spiral-bound notebook containing logs from my first season of riding, filled with information about rides and supported by figures from the cheapest bike computer I could find. The entries include notes on the wind, how I felt, what I’d fuelled with and who I’d drafted behind. A decade of technological advances has brought me to the point at which my ride data is synced to Strava, TrainingPeaks and Garmin Connect automatically, all before I’ve even removed my helmet.

Today’s fitness watches can come in handy for cyclists both on and off the bike. In the saddle, a watch’s ability to display and record heart rate, power and GPS make it useful. Off the bike, it can keep you up-to-date with everything from emails to weather alerts. A watch can even improve the way you rest. For athletes who are already diligent about tracking their training, an often-overlooked benefit of wearing a device such as the Garmin Forerunner 735XT is its ability to help with sleep habits.

All it takes is a few nights of poor rest to remind us how consistent, good sleep gives us energy and can make tough workouts bearable. After taking on the challenge of training for an Ironman and starting a full-time job, I struggled through workouts and found myself dragging my butt out of bed before 5 a.m. just trying to squeeze in my training.

Around the same time, I received a Garmin Forerunner 735XT as a gift and started to geek out. It turns out Garmin hasn’t missed the memo on how important sleep is for athletes. The Forerunner 735XT uses movement and heart-rate data to analyze your time in bed, breaking it down into light and deep sleep. Certain models – though not the 735XT – have added even more sleep data, including the rapid eye movement stage of sleep into the analytics. Using the Garmin Connect app or website, you can set a sleep goal for yourself (seven to nine hours are recommended) and check in with it over time, looking at the breakdown of your sleep throughout the past week, month, six months or year.

Here’s how I used the watch to help me rest and recover better. First, I set a sleep goal. There’s nothing like declaring a goal to make you rethink that second or third bedtime episode on Netflix. Second, I monitored my progress toward that goal. Using the Garmin Connect app, I found myself eagerly checking whether or not I’d hit my goal of eight hours and comparing one week’s average deep-sleep number with the previous week’s. Third, I paid attention along the way. I really started appreciating how sleep affects my performance. It now comes as no surprise when a bunch of late evenings or nights spent tossing or turning usually lead to at least a couple of lacklustre workouts. Next, I used the data to improve my training. If I know I’ve been getting bad sleep, I make sure I do a few easy rides until I’m rested and ready to work. And finally, throughout the process, I’ve been putting in extra effort to improve the sleep I do get by taking the advice I’d always read about, which includes shutting down screens a few hours before going to bed and sleeping in a cold room. With the thermostat a little cooler and a book on my bedside table where my iPad used to sit, not only the quantity, but also the quality, of my sleep has benefited.

I thought the best part of getting a Garmin watch would be syncing my workouts through Bluetooth. While this is a great feature, it’s been some of the other features of the watch that I really like: notifications letting me know that I can ignore my phone’s buzzing because it’s just another message in a group chat, the step tracker that gives me a sense of pride every time I hit more than 10,000 steps, and of course, the sleep tracker that gives me an excuse to go to bed early.