If you want to perform at your best consistently, there are a few things you need to get right.
Nutrition, an effective training program, supplements, and recovery are all important parts. But often, we forget something that’s arguably the most crucial element – sleep.
Lack of sleep can have many negative effects, including difficulty concentrating, slower reflexes, and irritability.
But it can also have a huge negative impact on your running performance.
So, when it comes to running and sleep, how much do runners need? Let’s explore!
Why is Sleep Important for Runners?
Sleep isn’t just important for your mind to rest. It’s just as crucial for your body to heal. We’re not just talking about healing from things like the flu or a small running injury.
When you exercise, your muscles experience “micro-tears”. Running also causes your fluid stores and electrolytes to deplete, lowering your energy levels.
During sleep, the small tears in your muscles heal. Tissues that have been damaged are repaired, and your cells rejuvenate. Your body works on healing all the damage it incurred during the day so you can wake up refreshed and full of energy the next day.
Runners need enough quality sleep for their bodies to refresh adequately overnight. Just one night of less sleep can lead to diminished performance, not only because your mental game is off, but also because your body isn’t quite at its best.
How Much Sleep is Enough?
We all know the magic number – 8 hours of sleep is the recommended amount. But there’s really no good universal answer here.
It varies considerably from person to person. Some people can happily deal with 5 or 6 hours. Other people feel terrible unless they get a solid 10.
It depends largely on your lifestyle and health. But if your nutrition is on point, you’re getting regular exercise, and you’re managing your stress levels, 7 to 9 hours is good.
Do Runners Get Enough Sleep?
Most people don’t get enough sleep. It’s not a problem unique to runners! For many of us, sleep falls way down on our list of priorities.
We wake up before it’s light so that we can get ready and get to work on time. Our days are spent doing work we aren’t passionate about (most of us), and by the time we arrive home, get the kids sorted out, cook and eat dinner, and fit in some exercise, it’s already late.
Because our minds are packed with work stuff and other stresses, we spend some time checking social media or watching movies before we finally relax enough to fall asleep.
Many times, even if we do get 8 hours, it’s not great quality sleep!
Other Reasons for Runners to Sleep More
Getting bad sleep isn’t a good thing for anyone. But for runners, it can lead to some side effects that really hamper your performance and prevent you from reaching your goals.
Here are two more reasons you should focus on getting more and better quality sleep:
To Avoid Sleep Deprivation
Not getting enough sleep doesn’t just mean you’re tired and irritable the next day. It also makes it hard to concentrate, makes you less productive, and dulls your reflexes, making you more prone to injury.
Running is as much a mental game as it is a physical one! If you aren’t able to concentrate and you’re feeling tired, it’s a recipe for running disaster.
Sleep deprivation doesn’t just fix itself after one good night’s rest either. It can take days to get back to feeling normal, and that’s if you stick to the required 8 hours of quality sleep.
To Keep Appetite in Check
The hungry hormone is called ghrelin. It’s what causes that growl in our stomach when we want to eat.
On the other hand, the hormone that tells us when we’re full and should stop eating is called leptin.
Getting less sleep causes an increase in the hungry hormone and a decrease in the full hormone. Have you ever noticed that when you’re overly tired, you want to snack on anything that’s there?
If your body doesn’t get enough rest, it looks for something to give it the energy it needs. The most logical (and easiest to access) energy source is food! That’s why we go through these hungry moods when we’re sleep-deprived.
Making sure you’re getting enough sleep will keep the hunger pangs at bay and make it easier to stick to nutrition plans and reach weight loss goals.
How to Get Better Sleep
If you’re interested in improving the quality of your sleep, see how many of these sleep tips you can incorporate into your daily routine.
1. Be Consistent
Having a sleep schedule is underrated! Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every night and morning trains your body into knowing when it should be asleep and when it should be awake.
It may take a while to train your body into this schedule. But if you keep it up long enough, eventually when your bedtime rolls around, your body and brain will automatically begin to shut down.
The best sleep environment is like a cave. Cool, dark, and quiet. For the best sleep quality then, try to replicate those conditions as much as possible.
Firstly, darken your room using black curtains. This will prevent artificial light from outside sneaking in and waking you up when you should be fast asleep.
Secondly, regulate the temperature in your bedroom. Too hot or too cold, and you’ll either struggle to fall asleep or your sleep quality won’t be great.
Lastly, silence is essential! If you live in a noisy neighborhood, it may be a good idea to consider soundproofing your room or home. Otherwise, a pair of noise-canceling headphones could help. Some are designed specifically for sleep.
White noise could be helpful if soundproofing isn’t an option. You can buy a white noise machine that gives off a constant sound that’s hardly noticeable but masks other noise.
3. Power Down
Blue light is a well-known enemy of decent sleep. As difficult as it may be, try turning off smartphones, laptops, tablets, and televisions a full hour before you get in bed to sleep.
In an ideal world, you wouldn’t keep any of these devices in your bedroom while sleeping.
Not only will messages and notifications disrupt your sleep, but just the electromagnetic waves they give off can mess with your brain waves while you sleep and ruin the quality of your rest.
If you must sleep with devices in your room, try to set them on a table away from the bed.
4. Drink Less in the Evening
It’s an inevitable cycle – you drink, you go to the bathroom. When we’re young, we can usually drink what we want and sleep through the night no problem.
But as we get older, a couple of drinks in the evening often turns into a couple of trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
If you’re waking up twice or three times in the night and getting up, your sleep quality will suffer.
Try drinking less in the evenings so you don’t have to take midnight trips to the bathroom.
5. Cut Off Caffeine in the Afternoon
The effects of that one cup of coffee you had can stick around for up to six hours after you drink it! You may not notice the effects of caffeine while you’re busy during the day, but when you’re trying to fall asleep at night it can be a problem.
Try to limit the amount of caffeine you drink in the afternoons. Perhaps drink your normal caffeine fix in the morning and switch to decaf in the afternoon so you don’t have to give it up entirely.
6. Set Up a Humidifier
Breathing problems can disrupt your sleep quality without you even knowing. A humidifier makes the air moist, preventing problems with dry throats and noses.
You may be surprised at how effective this can be! If you wake up coughing, sniffing, or sneezing, a humidifier could drastically improve the quality of your rest. You can buy one at any general store.
7. Avoid Exercise Within Three Hours of Bed
When you exercise, happy hormones flood through your body. Your muscles and cells are stimulated, and your body is on a high. It can be hard to come down off of it and go to sleep!
Even if you have no choice but to run in the evenings, it’s advisable to try and finish up all your exercise for the day at least three hours before you settle in for the night. This will give your body enough time to relax and it will be in a more conducive state to resting.
8. Get Additional Rest Time Through Napping
There’s nothing wrong with a good nap here and there! If you have to nap every day when you get home, then perhaps something needs to change. But if you happened to have a late-night this week, it’s a great idea to make up for what you lost by catching a nap.
Research suggests that 45 minutes is the optimal length for a nap. It’s enough for you to get some deep sleep and wake up feeling refreshed without overdoing it and sleeping too much.
Are There Apps That Can Help You Sleep Better?
If you struggle with sleep, these apps are designed to help.
This handy app tracks your sleep cycles and wakes you up at the optimal time. It also makes note of your sleep and wake times, as well as snoring!
It’s a great way to get some insight into your own sleep cycles and learn how your body and brain work when you’re asleep.
Calm is a meditation app that’s designed, as its name suggests, to bring about relaxation. It’s filled with meditation tracks, instrumental music, soothing podcasts, and sounds to induce relaxation.
It’s an excellent choice if you struggle to wind down before going to bed. Sleep isn’t the only thing it can help with, though. You can choose to use it for anxiety relief, self-improvement, or focus too.
Headspace is a similar app to Calm. It’s essentially a meditation and mindfulness app, which will guide you into forming a pre-bed mindfulness and relaxation habit.
Just a few minutes every evening (consistently) will help you form meditation skills that could transform your sleep quality.