Early Morning Training and Sleep Deprivation: Facts and Solutions

by SwimSwam Contributors 21

June 08th, 2020 Lifestyle

Courtesy: Len Sterlin (Head Coach of Commercial Swimming Club) & Svetlana Sterlin

“Sleep is a weapon!” 

(Robert Ludlum, The Bourne Identity, 1980)

The coronavirus pandemic has brought significant change to the swimming community. During the isolation period, we’ve been forced to reflect on our lifestyles. Many swimmers have jumped at the chance to catch up on sleep during the pandemic.

Sleep is one of the body’s most important biological functions and contributes to physical and intellectual performance, cognition, learning, physiological development, and mental and physical health. For decades, early morning training has been the greatest pride of swimmers. However, sleep deprivation has been linked to poor recovery, injury, illness, and long-term health problems.

Problem, Facts, Scientific Data, Implications

Sleep deprivation has been the subject of many studies and blogposts. The Australian Department of Health recommends1 9-11 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night for 5-13 year-olds, 8-10 hours for those aged 14-17, and 7-9 hours for those aged 18-64, as well as consistent bed and wake-up times.

Almost every weekday swimmers arrive home at 7PM at the earliest, and that is before showering, eating, and downtime. Those who are students also need to do homework. Their bed time could average at 11PM or so. For most, training starts at 5:30AM, so they are geting up between 4:00 and 5:00AM. It’s almost impossible for adolescents to get the minimum recommended amount of sleep. When this schedule takes up 46-48 weeks of the year, it leads to chronic sleep deprivation, which impacts swimmers’ academic performance and general health.

A study2 conducted in Australia from 2008-2012 revealed the following:

  1. “Athletes self-reported poorer mood, and higher exertion … effects on perceived mood and exertion could impair an athlete’s motivation, and thus their ability to train effectively;
  2. “… impaired immune function … places [athletes] at greater risk of developing upper respiratory tract infections and other health problems.
  3. “… impaired cognitive capacity, glucose metabolism and appetite regulation … could impair the training performance of elite athletes.”

The results of this study also indicate that training schedules requiring early morning starts reduce sleep to a level below the recommended target for healthy adults. While an obvious strategy to compensate for early morning starts is an earlier bedtime, the presence of a physiologically ‘forbidden zone’ for sleep may discourage individuals from going to bed earlier than usual. In the case of swimmers, delaying morning training by 2 or 3 hours would enable them to obtain more sleep than they currently do.

In 2019, the British Medicine Journal published a study3 on sleep in elite swimmers. The researchers found that variations in sleep time are related to early morning (in this study, 6:30AM) training, which can leave an athlete in a perpetual state of exhaustion and prolong the recovery process. It might be reasonable to suggest that people who get up early should also go to bed earlier. However, participants in this study (as with the majority of elite swimmers around the world) were not able to achieve that. The most common reasons were social, school or family commitments. The study recommended delaying early morning sessions by 2 hours to allow athletes enough sleep each night.

A number of research studies revealed the following negative effects of prolonged sleep deprivation:

  • significant loss of brain cells required for alertness (Journal of Neuroscience; Forbes Magazine4, 2014);
  • impaired immune system (University of Helsinki5, 2013);
  • reduced lifespan (University of Warwick, University of Naples6, 2012);
  • premature ageing and age-related diseases (State University of São Paulo7, 2014);
  • higher risk of developing cancers, increased skin damage, difficulty learning new information, and more (Business Insider Australia8, 2019);
  • foggy thoughts, daytime drowsiness, limited attention span, increased cortisol levels, weakened immune system, unstable mood, impaired memory and decision-making; long-term effects include obesity, diabetes, and heart disease (Seventh Generation9, 2015).

The National Sleep Foundation (USA) reports10 that adolescent sleep patterns are naturally delayed. Mature adolescents have later circadian rhythm timing, making it physiologically difficult for them to sleep earlier at night and wake up earlier in the mornings. Sufficient sleep would result in improved athletic performances in training and competition11.

A 2008 study12 involving students on the Stanford University men’s and women’s swimming teams showed that when athletes extended sleep to 10 hours per night for 6-7 weeks, they swam a 15-meter sprint 0.51 seconds faster, reacted 0.15 seconds quicker off the blocks, improved turn time by 0.10 seconds, and increased kick strokes by 5 kicks.

All of this scientific evidence suggests that for many (but not all) athletes in serious training programs, excessive early morning training can lead to sleep deprivation, lower academic performance, and overtraining. This would also suggest that a number of potentially world-class swimmers retire from sport prematurely after struggling to handle stress caused by sleep debt. Those who remain in their sport may be subject to negative health effects of years of accumulated sleep deprivation later in life, after finishing their sporting careers.

Although early morning starts are common in our sport, no scientific data has been published to indicate a sound physiological rationale to train early in the mornings. Rather, it is likely that early morning starts are a legacy from a time when non-professional athletes had to train before work or school. Even now, school-aged swimmers can still receive adequate sleep and make it to school on time while training to the capacity suitable for them.

Possible Solutions

Now that we have identified problems stemming from sleep deprivation, here are some solutions to maximize sleep time and improve athlete performance.

1.     SLEEP HYGIENE

The National Sleep Foundation recommends:

  • Limiting daytime naps to 30 minutes. Napping does not make up for inadequate nighttime sleep, but a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance.
  • Avoiding stimulants such ascaffeine and alcohol close to bedtime. While alcohol is known to help you fall asleep faster, too much close to bedtime can disrupt sleep in the second half of the night as the body begins to process the alcohol.
  • Steering clear of food that can be disruptive right before sleep. Heavy or rich foods, fatty or fried meals, spicy dishes, citrus fruits, and carbonated drinks can trigger indigestion for some people. Eat carbohydrates such as bread, milk, cheese, and potato. These take longer to break down and provide “slow-release” energy the next day. If eating close to sleep time, food should be snack-sized. Upon waking, eat protein such as eggs. Proteins are digested best in the mornings and promote tissue growth and regeneration.
  • Ensuring adequate exposure to natural light. Exposure to sunlight during the day, as well as darkness at night, helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
  • Establishing a regular relaxing bedtime routine.A regular nightly routine helps the body recognize bedtime. For example, a warm shower or bath, reading a book, or light stretches. Try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before attempting to sleep.
  • Making sure that the sleep environment is pleasant. Mattress and pillows should be comfortable. The bedroom should be cool (~20°). Bright light from lamps, mobile phone and TV screens can make it difficult to fall asleep. Consider blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices that can make the bedroom more relaxing.
  1. IMPROVING WAKEFULNESS AND SLEEP LOSS FATIGUE MANAGEMENT

Modified military13 and aviation industry14 strategies relevant to sports training:

Improving Wakefulness:

  • Frequent breaks during training to alleviate strain and boredom (give short motivational talks);
  • Increase social support: pair athletes to promote companionship, support and check in with one another. Arrange small teams rather than individuals to perform tasks where possible.
  • When fatigue is due to sleep loss (rather than physical effort), include periods of mild effort or short bursts of strenuous activity;
  • Plan to change routines and rotate training tasks. Cross-training athletes in a variety of skills is one option.

Sleep Deprivation Fatigue Management – measures coaches can implement:

  • Include sleep requirements in seasonal planning. Prepare different sleep plans for each potential training/competition scenario;
  • Allow adequate sleep before competitions. Avoid sleep debt (that is, the amount of sleep required to restore normal performance levels) both in yourself and your athletes;
  • Reassure rather than pressure. Be sensitive to mood changes in your athletes (especially in teenagers). Don’t overreact to uncharacteristic outbursts that are a likely reaction to stress and fatigue;
  • As fatigue increases, coaches may need to modify their leadership behaviours by giving simple instructions slowly and clearly and being tolerant of errors;
  • Allow sleep-deprived athletes to complete self-paced training tasks. Sleep loss has less impact on these types of tasks as opposed to tasks that are work-paced. For example, implement rest intervals instead of repeats within a given time cycle.

Another example is the “Last In, First Out” set: athletes perform a training set in a small group starting off 5 or 10 seconds apart; upon finishing each repeat, the leader waits for the last athlete to finish; as soon as the last athlete finishes, the leader starts off followed by the rest of the group.

The “Plus 7” Test: This simple test is used to assess short-term memory (particularly affected by sleep loss) and reliably detect mental lapses. The “Plus 7” task is a continuous addition exercise. Begin by choosing a random number between 5 and 9. Add 7 to get the sum. These additions are to be done in one’s head, remembering the sum, and calculating the new sum. If athletes can continue this task for at least one minute, without long pauses or mistakes, they are probably not experiencing severe sleep loss effects.

  1. EFFECTIVE PLANNING OF TRAINING SCHEDULE

The coach should carefully plan training programs (day, microcycle, mesocycle) to avoid negative impacts on sleep time, both in the morning and evening.

RECUPERATIVE WEEKS

To assist athletes with managing fatigue caused by sleep loss, coaches may consider incorporating recovery weeks into seasonal periodisation. During recuperative weeks* morning training may start 30 min-1 hour later and afternoon training may finish 30 min earlier. This format allows athletes to have approximately 5 hours of additional sleep per week. Training volume during the recuperative week will, of course, be lower than on regular weeks, however, quality and intensity should not be compromised. Depending on the preparation phase and competition calendar, a recuperative week can be scheduled every two, three or four weeks.

*Note: recuperative week is not taper, which is another topic entirely.

SLEEP BANKING

The study ‘Banking sleep: realisation of benefits during subsequent sleep restriction and recovery’15 (2009) shows that “banking” sleep sustains performance and alertness and accelerates recovery. The idea is to include periods in which swimmers sleep extra hours to compensate for periods of sleep loss. The following timetables incorporate sleep banking into various types of swimmers’ training schedules.

Illustrative Example 1:

Time Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
0-5 am Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep
5-6 am Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep
6-8 am Training Training Training Sleep Sleep
8-10 am Training Sleep
8 am-4 pm School School School School School
4-7 pm Training Training Training Training Training
7-10 pm
10-11 pm Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep
11 pm-0 am Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep

Illustrative Example 2:

Time Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
0-5 am Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep
5-6 am Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep
6-8 am Training Training Training Sleep Sleep
8-10 am Training Sleep
8 am-4 pm School School School School School
4-7 pm Training Training Training Training Training
7-10 pm
10-11 pm Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep
11 pm-0 am Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep

Illustrative Example 3:

Time Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
0-5 am Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep
5-6 am Sleep Sleep Sleep
6-8 am Training Training Training Training Sleep Sleep
8-10 am Training Sleep
8 am-4 pm School School School School School
4-7 pm Training Training Training Training
7-10 pm Sleep
10-11 pm Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep
11 pm-0 am Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep

Illustrative Example 4:

Time Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
0-5 am Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep
5-6 am Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep
6-8 am Training Training Training Training Sleep Sleep
8-10 am Sleep Sleep
8 am-4 pm School School School School School
4-7 pm Training Training Training Training Training
7-10 pm
10-11 pm Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep
11 pm-0 am Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep

Illustrative Example 5 (senior high performance program):

Time Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun Mon
0-5 am Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep
5-6 am Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep
6-8 am Training Training Training Sleep Training Training Training Sleep Training Training Training Sleep Training Training Training
8-10 am
8 am-4 pm Training Training Training Training Training Training Training Training Training Training Training Training
4-7 pm
7-10 pm Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep
10-11 pm Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep

SCIENCE BASED VS TRADITION BASED TRAINING SESSION DESIGN

Traditional swimming training advocates high volume completed at relatively slow speed. However no scientific evidence proves a direct relation between training volume and performance.

World famous exercise physiologist David Costill determined16,17 that competitive swimmers on lower training loads do not lose fitness; in fact, they often improve their performances. Scientific data18 support more significant performance gains through a program based on high intensity and low volume. The implication of this research is that coaches may consider designing lower volume morning training sessions. This would allow later morning starts and an accumulation of sleep time to assist swimmers’ recovery.

CONCLUSION

Sleep has been described as the cheapest, most effective recovery tool available; while many athletes spend a significant amount of money on supplements, recovery practices (massage, nutritionist & physiotherapist consultations) and medicine, sleep is ingrained into our behaviour from birth. Even though the importance of sleep is scientifically proven, changing the culture of our sport will be a long and challenging process. The key is to educate coaches, swimmers, and parents on science-based decision making. It is also important to note that coaches have an ethical and working obligation of self-care and should practice the measures outlined in this report just as much as swimmers to remain effective.

References:

  1. Australian Government–Department of Health. 2019. Australian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Young People (5-17 years) – An Integration of Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Sleep. https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-24-hours-phys-act-guidelines
  2. Research Gate. 2014. Sleep or swim? Early-morning training severely restricts the amount of sleep obtained by elite swimmers. (C Sargent, S Halson, GD Roach) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254229090_Sleep_or_swim_Early-morning_training_severely_restricts_the_amount_of_sleep_obtained_by_elite_swimmers
  3. 3. British Medical Journal. 2019. Sleep in elite swimmers: prevalence of sleepiness, obstructive sleep apnea and poor sleep quality. (P Surda, M Putala, P Siarnik, A Walker, K De Rome, N Amin, M Singh Sangha, W Fokkens) https://bmjopensem.bmj.com/content/bmjosem/5/1/e000673.full.pdf
  4. 4. Forbes. 2014. Lack Of Sleep Kills Brain Cells. (M Haiken) https://www.forbes.com/sites/melaniehaiken/2014/03/20/lack-of-sleep-kills-brain-cells-new-study-suggests/#2a52877f6e9d
  5. University of Helsinki. 2013. New biological links between sleep deprivation and the immune system. (P Lehtinen) https://www.helsinki.fi/en/news/health/new-biological-links-between-sleep-deprivation-and-the-immune-system-discovered-0
  6. National Health Service (UK). 2010. Lifespan linked to sleep. (Dr F Cappuccio)
  7. https://www.nhs.uk/news/lifestyle-and-exercise/lifespan-linked-to-sleep/
  8. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2014. Human longevity is associated with regular sleep patterns, maintenance of slow wave sleep, and favorable lipid profile. (DR Mazzotti, C Guindalini, WA dos Santos Moraes, M Levy Andersen, MS Cendoroglo, L Ramos, S Tufik)
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4067693/
  10. 8. Business Insider Australia. 2019. Sleep deprivation can kill you-here’s what sleeping less than 7 hours per night does to your body and brain. (K Loria)
  11. https://www.businessinsider.com.au/sleep-deprivation-effects-on-your-body-brain-2018-8?r=US&IR=T
  12. Seventh Generation. 2015. The Cost of Sleep Debt: Can You Recover? (S Kolman) https://www.seventhgeneration.com/blog/cost-sleep-debt-can-you-recover
  13. Sleep Foundation. 2020. Children, teens & sleep hot topics: sleep timing & duration. Backgrounder: Later School Start Times. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/backgrounder-later-school-start-times
  14. 11. Very Well Fit. 2019. Do Athletes Need Extra Sleep? (E Quinn)
  15. https://www.verywellfit.com/do-athletes-need-extra-sleep-3120087#citation-2
  16. Science Daily; American Academy of Sleep Medicine. 2008. Extra Sleep Improves Athletic Performance.https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080609071106.htm
  17. Department of Defence. 2002. Fatigue Management During Operations: A Commander’s Guide. (Lt Colonel P.J. Murphy) https://www.defence.gov.au/Health/About/Docs/FatigueManagementHandbook.pdf
  18. Australian Government. 2012. Fatigue Management Strategies for Aviation Workers: A Training & Development Workbook. https://www.casa.gov.au/file/203711/download?token=IZTufNT1
  19. 15. Europe PMC. 2009. Banking Sleep: Realization of Benefits During Subsequent Sleep Restriction and Recovery. (T L Rupp, PhD, N J Wesensten, PhD, P D Bliese, PhD, and T J Balkin, PhD) https://europepmc.org/article/pmc/pmc2647785#free-full-text
  20. 16. Taylor & Francis Online. 2020. Effects of Reduced Training on Muscular Power in Swimmers. (DL Costill , PhD; Douglas S. King, PhD; Robert Thomas; MS Hargreaves)
  21. https://www.tandfonline.com/action/cookieAbsent
  22. 17. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 1991. Adaptations to Swimming Training: Influence of Training Volume. (DL Costill R ThomasR A Robergs, D Pascoe, C LambertS BarrW J Fink) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2020277/
  23. 18. Research Gate; Laboratoire de Physiologie Clinique et de l’Exercice, Faculté de Médecine de Saint-Etienne, France, Department of Osteopathy, Faculty of Social and Health Sciences Unitec New Zealand. 2011. Training load and performance in swimming. (J-C. Chatard & A M Stewart)
  24. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/286738567_Training_load_and_performance_in_swimming

Further reading:

ABOUT LEN STERLIN

Len Sterlin is the Head Coach of Commercial Swimming Club in Brisbane, Australia. He has over 30 years of experience coaching swimming and triathlon in 5 different countries. He holds an Australian Advanced and ASCA Level 5 (International) Age Groups coaching qualification.

Len is always looking for new and exciting ways to inspire his swimmers and make swimming better and more enjoyable. A former water polo player and triathlete, he now enjoys mountain biking and the occasional ocean swim race in his spare time.

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Andrew Binder MD
5 months ago

This is an excellent article. I am a sleep specialist and father of two daughters who competed at the college an international level. I think the research by Dave Costill needs to get more emphasis. Decreasing the volume of training solves all the sleep problems. I would argue that morning workouts be eliminated entirely during the school week.

Swimmer
Reply to  Andrew Binder MD
5 months ago

That’s all well and good, but when you only have pool time after 6pm and before 7am during the week, and even that’s not consistent, you have morning practices before school and late nights. So much for good reliable sleep.

Anonymous
Reply to  Andrew Binder MD
5 months ago

My daughter had to eliminate morning workouts this past school year due to distance to practice and not being able to make it back to school on time. This was the first year in 4 where she didn’t have morning workouts and her performance did suffer, but her grades continued to soar. Hard to justify morning workouts when you have 5-6 hours of homework and return home from after school practices at 8:00pm. Grades are more important in our family.

dmswim
Reply to  Anonymous
5 months ago

If your child has 5-6 hours of homework a night, you may want to reconsider her courseload.

swimapologist
Reply to  dmswim
5 months ago

Nobody really has 5-6 hours a night of homework. They spend 5-6 hours a night picking their way through their homework in between snapchats and texts and instagram and slack channels and reading swimswam and whatever else they’re doing.

I’m sure Anonymous won’t want to acknowledge that, based on language like “her grades continued to soar” and “grades are more important in our family,” but I just watch my kid ‘study’ for many hours and there’s a lot of other things going on for her during that ‘study’ time.

Anonymous
Reply to  swimapologist
5 months ago

There actually aren’t a lot of other things going on during this time – research papers, assignments, tests, etc. Pre-pandemic, studying and working on assignments in a shared space, so the observation was clear. The course load is the hardest that can be taken. Multiple college coaches have reinforced taking the hardest courses offered – or that you can take. Probably also why some club coaches have encouraged swimmers to take easier classes so they don’t have to miss the extra practices or work so hard academically.

Corn Pop
Reply to  Anonymous
5 months ago

Research Papers at High School? Peer Review Panel : Amy , Tanisha , Jade , Katie & Brielle. ” Yep all good ” .

Anonymous
Reply to  Corn Pop
5 months ago

Yes Corn Pop – many high schools have research papers in Psychology, Anatomy, Chemistry, Biology, History, etc. When was the last time you looked at the curriculum for high school honors? There’s a much better opportunity for $ in academics than athletics, especially post pandemic for a Class of 2021 grad that swims. Congratulations to all of the colleges that are encouraging the academics and showing off the GPA’s!

Corn Pop
Reply to  Anonymous
5 months ago

Now I don’t claim to be an A student.
But I’m trying to be
For maybe by being an A student , baby
I can win your love for me .
Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t kn oi w much about s science book
Don’t kn o w much about the French I took .

swimmerswummer
Reply to  Andrew Binder MD
5 months ago

I was going to say every part of this article except for Costill’s study is valuable. Sleep is absolutely important but the study linked does not say what the author is implying, it certainly wouldn’t be the basis for a high-intensity low-volume program because that’s not what they studied. They studied the impact on performance of 14 day reduction in training… aka taper. It sounds sexy but there’s no good research that coaches are planning season’s around that say you can skip all the yardage and hard work. That said… there’s a balance. Because of school, homework, family commitments, pool availability, and many many more factors I don’t think there will ever be a one-size-fits-all answer to this, especially for… Read more »

UK Coach
5 months ago

Couldn’t agree more…problem is when the reality of most clubs facility situation (and athletes academic schedules) makes it almost impossible to implement a training plan that allows a balance of training volume and enough sleep. Would love to train from 4-7pm everyday, but we can’t get any water time until 6pm-6:30pm, and have to fit 7 squads into a weekly plan. Mornings are the only time the older swimmers can get the space they need. I appreciate though that the author points to ways to work around this using recovery weeks.

ChooChoo
5 months ago

This is easily one of the best, and most important, messages that needs broadcasting to the swimming world, specifically coaches. Swimming in the SEC, we had one morning off every week, not including Sunday, the rest of the days were normally a 5:45am stretch. To get at least 8 hours of sleep, it means the expectation is you go to bed at or before 9pm. 9pm. In college. 5/7 days of the week. Every week. Let’s be realistic y’all. Overtraining and sleep deprivation are real, let’s quit pretending they’re entirely the swimmer’s fault. Work smarter not harder.

Zane G
Reply to  ChooChoo
5 months ago

Agreed 100%

bob
Reply to  ChooChoo
5 months ago

Yes, they are real but so is not reaching your full potential. You can have one or the other. There are many programs around me that don’t have morning workouts. Their swimmers are slower and aren’t fast enough to go to the top colleges which could be their goals. If you want to sleep, that’s great for you! I would not want you to give that up but we need to think realistically for the rest of the young people. College swimmers have enough time to catch a 20-30 minute nap before class and get to bed at 9:30pm if they want to put sleep before extracurricular. It is worse for HS sophomore swimmers who are now asked to swim… Read more »

Swammer
Reply to  bob
5 months ago

Yup. Had several hs fresh/soph girls go 1:46 +/- with no morning workouts (except Sat).

Swimpop
Reply to  Swammer
5 months ago

Congratulations are in order, several girls in the top 25 in the country for 15-16s 200FR, and all on no doubles during the week, impressive program.

Carolyn Binder
Reply to  Swimpop
5 months ago

Club name?

ChooChoo
Reply to  bob
5 months ago

Hi Bob, I like the different perspective, reality is that probably somewhere in-between is best. You start off by saying “they are real” but then proceed to say so is not reaching his/her full potential. I think many of the commenters points are that swimmers are NOT reaching their full potential because of over training and sleep deprivation. I believe you and I are both advocating for balance here: enough training to be your best, with enough recovery to let your best show.