A blog by runners. For runners.

The importance of good sleep for runners

the importance of sleep for runnersSleep, as you’ve heard a million times, is crucial to your overall health. Getting less than 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night on a regular basis is linked to a whole bunch of unpleasant effects. And while it may be tempting to forego sleep in order to squeeze in a bit more running time, the effects of sleep deprivation can be more pronounced for runners than for others. Even one night of poor sleep can impact performance while regular sleep deprivation can weaken every system in your body, breaking down the very instrument you need to perform your sport.

Here are some more of the adverse effects of sleep deprivation on runners:

  • Decreased endurance: Sleep deprivation decreases your ability to store glycogen for energy, so you will run out of energy faster during your workouts. In fact, sleep deprived runners reach a point of exhaustion 11 percent times more quickly than those with adequate sleep.
  • Longer recovery: The human growth hormone, which repairs muscle, is secreted by your pituitary gland primarily during deep sleep. If you don’t get enough quality sleep, your levels of this crucial hormone are lowered, and you’re more likely to suffer longer from post-workout aches and pains. Melatonin is another crucial antioxidant that aids muscle recovery and levels drop quickly without adequate sleep.
  • Slower rates of improvement. Sleep is a crucial time for memory consolidation: it’s when you process and synthesize various elements –like movement and nerve activation patterns – that help you to perform better in the future. If you don’t get enough sleep, you don’t have as much time to consolidate this information. You improve slower and your training is less efficient.
  • Increased risk of burnout. During a workout your muscles break down, ripping and tearing on a cellular level. Sleep is when your body repairs muscle cells and gets stronger. Insufficient sleep also has a damaging effect on immune system function. This means when you train on little sleep, you’re taking already damaged and vulnerable muscles and straining them further – until you get injured or sick.

How to sleep better

In addition to avoiding screens an hour before sleep and caffeine after mid-day, there are few other things you can do to improve your sleep quality:

  • Log your sleep. You don’t have to get all fancy with gadgets and trackers. A simple journal will do. At the very minimum, log the time you went to bed, the time you woke up, how you’d rate your quality of sleep, and how you feel. This can help you notice elements in your life that affect your sleep, and the more information you keep track of, the more powerful this tool will be.
  • Set an alarm to go to bed. Giving yourself a reminder to get ready for sleep can help you get in the right mindset for a good night’s rest. Set an alarm about an hour before you plan to go to bed to alert you to shut down your computer, brush your teeth, put on your pajamas, etc. Then you can read a book in bed until you feel ready for sleep.
  • Pick a relaxation technique. If you meditate, you might already have a method you use to relax and power down your brain. If not, lots of people swear by the 4-7-8 method, progressive muscle relaxation, or visualization. Try a few things, pick what works for you, and do that when your head hits the pillows.
  • Try a lavender bag. Aromatherapy may be too out-there for some, but people have used lavender-scented essential oils and lavender-stuffed bags to relax for centuries. Try putting one under your pillow.
  • Experiment with lucid dreaming. If you dread going to bed, lucid dreaming – i.e., being able to control what happens in your dreams – is a fascinating challenge. Training yourself to lucid dream involves remembering as many of your dreams as possible, and this also means sleeping as much as you can.

Written by Varia Makagonova.