sleep for runners

The Importance of Sleep for Runners

The Importance of Sleep for Runners

What do Paula Radcliffe and Usain Bolt have in common? They both apparently sleep for at least 10 hours per night and another couple of hours in the afternoon!

Whether a beginner or experienced runner, lifestyle factors such as hydration, nutrition and sleep can impact on both motivation levels and running performance.  The more serious a runner becomes the more value is placed on these additional factors to achieve improved times, distances and generally the best running version of yourself.

Why is sleep important for runners?

So why is sleep so important? It is important for everybody however we do know that some people naturally need more sleep than others.  According to the NHS most adults need between 7 and 9 hours per night, with the hours before midnight being more beneficial than those after midnight.  A research study released yesterday by European Heart Journal recognised that the time you fall asleep at night is also significant to heart health in later life.  Falling asleep between 10pm and 11pm is apparently considered to lower risk for heart and circulatory disease.

Essential biological processes occur whilst we sleep to help our bodies and brains to restore, repair and re-energize.  It is the time for our brains to process memories, store new information and organise thoughts, as well as lay down new neural pathways and remove toxic waste that has built up during the day.  Whilst asleep, the body replenishes itself by releasing molecules including hormones and proteins to build and repair muscles, organs and tissues.  Antibodies and cytokines are also produced, which are proteins that fight infection and inflammation helping to fight off sickness and disease.  This is why you need even more sleep when feeling unwell.

How much sleep do you need when training for a marathon?

Runners, especially those training for marathons, need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep per night due to the increased training load and stress on the body.  The more training and miles you do the more sleep your body will need to reap the full physiological benefits from each training session.  If you do not get enough sleep this can contribute to risk of overtraining syndrome, illness and injury which will all have a negative impact on performance.

good night sleep

The following are suggestions of ways to improve your sleep routine and thus benefit from the crucial recovery benefits:

  • Getting plenty of light, fresh air and vitamin D during the day, especially on rest days when you are not out running.
  • Set a consistent sleep schedule, going to bed and getting up at similar time every day.
  • Avoiding blue light from screens at least 30 minutes before bed will help your body’s natural sleep cycle, Strava can wait! Consider leaving phone in another room or turning off hour before bed.
  • Creating a healthy evening routine to help you to wind down such as a hot bath, reading and/or breathing/mindfulness techniques before bed. Gentle stretching is also a nice thing to do in evening.
  • Use bed for sleep and sex only. Don’t take work or watch TV in bed.
  • Invest in comfortable, quality mattress and pillow as you spend at least one third of your life in bed! Also treat yourself to comfortable bedding. Weighted blankets are a good option too.  Adam Peaty even famously took his to the Tokyo Olympics prioritising the importance of a good night sleep.
  • Keep bedroom around 18 degrees, quiet and dark. May need earplugs, black out blinds/curtains or sleep mask.  Remove noisy items such as ticking clock.
  • Consider purchasing sleep pillow spray or lavender hand/face cream to help you to sleep or self- heating eye mask if really struggling as a treat for tired eyes.
  • Avoiding or significantly reducing caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, especially in late afternoon and evening. Consider hot milk or chamomile tea as an evening alternative.
  • Think about time of evening meal, allowing adequate time for digestion. Going to bed too full or hungry can both impact on quality of sleep.
  • Avoiding sleeping pills, as these can cause dependency and unwanted side effects.
  • Write down list of worries before bed so that you can remove them from your mind until morning!

Now what are you waiting for, sweet dreams!

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