A blog by runners. For runners.

Pre-race sleep: does it matter?

Race day almost always means an early wake-up call. If you’re like me, you do the math and count 7-8 hours backwards from your wake-up time to determine your bedtime. Then you hop in bed at a ridiculously early hour of 8 p.m. only to toss and turn, toss and turn, toss and turn. Before you know it, the clock is approaching midnight and you’re still awake. You just know your PR dreams are shattered because there’s no way you can race well on so little sleep.

Or can you?

Probably so, says a new Dutch study. Pre-race jitters and early wake-up times means many athletes skimp on sleep the night before a race. So, researchers set out to learn how big of a role sleep deprivation plays on athletic performance.

And it turns out, not that much.

The researchers recruited ten fit men in their 20s and compared their cycling abilities under different conditions: in a cool room, in a hot room, and after a night of no shut eye.

The athletes who cycled in the heat were the slowest, however, the athletes who didn’t sleep and the athletes who biked in cool conditions did equally as well as each other. The only difference was the sleep-deprived cyclists underestimated their distance while well-rested cyclists were spot on with their estimates.

This basically means poor sleep only affects athletic performance in your head. You may assume your race time will suffer after a restless night’s sleep, but that likely won’t be the case.

So, how can you get out of your own head and boost your mental confidence? Just remember plenty of athletes have trouble sleeping before a big event and still go on to achieve greatness. Chances are your competition is having difficulty sleeping, too. And if your only competition is yourself, it’s still a level playing field if you sleep poorly before every race.

What are your thoughts on this study? My half marathon PR was set after my then 4-month-old woke up five times the night before, so I’m buying this!

(All that said, it’s important to get quality sleep during your training cycle. Here are some tips that can help.)

Written by Jen Matz.