April 23, 2022

Sleep and it's Effect on Runners

Have you ever laid in bed the night before a race, eyes wide open and your brain whirling? Different scenarios playing on the projector of your mind? Each hour ticks away as you note how NOT getting sleep will impact the race tomorrow. This is a common experience/struggle that happens to many runners the night before a race.

Much research has been done and has concluded that, luckily, missing sleep the night before a race does not particularly impact race performance. BUT the nervous mind can conjure up negative thinking about your lack of sleep, which in turn could result in a poor race performance. Blame your brain, not your legs or missed sleep.

This knowledge leads many athletes to bank sleep the nights before a big race. Longer nights of sleep and/or daily naps can contribute to building up the sleep bank. Paula Radcliffe slept nine hours a night with two-hour naps. She is a three-time winner of the London Marathon, three-time New York Marathon champion, and 2002 Chicago Marathon winner. Poor quality sleep over a long period of time can definitely hurt your workout performance.

Is there a particular sleep schedule that is best for runners? Sleep needs are individual. Some people need nine hours, while others are energized after six and a half.

To calculate the perfect amount for you, try this experiment the next time you're on vacation: go to bed at the same time every night and wake up naturally – no wake-up call or alarm clock. By the fourth day, you'll have paid off your sleep debt and should wake up refreshed. Take note of how many hours you slept after waking up refreshed — that's your sleep goal, says Frisca Yan-Go, MD, professor of neurology and director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center.

Or try another method: keep your wake-up time the same, but go to bed an hour earlier for the next four days. Still sleepy? Go to bed 30 minutes earlier. Can't fall asleep? Go to bed 15 minutes later. Experiment until you wake up refreshed.

Recommendations on How to Get Quality Sleep

  • Limit: Alcohol, heavy meals, nicotine, and exercise (tough, I know!) within three hours of bedtime.
  • Limit: Caffeine within six to eight hours of bedtime.
  • Set a consistent sleep routine. People who have sleep disorders usually have inconsistent sleep schedules. Practice going to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time each morning.
  • Create a good sleeping environment. Research shows a good sleeping environment can improve the quality of your sleep. Dark, quiet, and cool environments make for good sleeping conditions. You can also leave a little bottle of lavender oil on your night table and rub a couple of drops into your palms. Lavender is one of the most popular essential oils for insomnia and improving sleep quality.
  • Prepare for sleep.Train your body to recognize when it's time for bed. A short reading time, meditation, or listening to calming music can prepare your body for rest.
  • Use quality bedding: Choosing a good, supportive mattress is important for good sleep. Make sure your pillow is not too soft or hard and supports your head well.