The Importance of Sleep For Runners

If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re serious about making the most out of your running routine.

But is your sleep up to speed?

Here’s a shocking statistic: 40 percent of Americans get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep per night, according to the American Psychological Association.

This means that roughly 1 in 3 people isn’t getting enough sleep on a regular basis. He/she could be you.

Here’s the truth. Proper sleep improves your mood, gives you more energy, strengthens your immune system, and ensures swift and efficient recovery.

In today’s post, I’ll delve into the link between sleep and running performance to help you determine how much sleep you should get, why runner runners need more spleen, and tips on how to make the most out of your bedtime.

Sounds great?

Let’s get started.

The Benefits of Sleep For Runners

Running is a high-impact exercise per excellence. Logging the miles puts a lot of stress on your body. That’s why runners likely require more shut-eye than a couch potato.

Your body needs time to repair itself and recover after a hard run, and this process mainly occurs during shut-eye.

Before we get into how much sleep you need, let’s first dive into the general good and bad of sleep and the lack thereof.

Recovery

The reason sleep is vital for recovery comes down to a specific hormone made by the pituitary gland and released into the bloodstream during the slow-wave sleep stage. Enter the human growth hormone (HGH).

While running, your muscles break down on a cellular level. A good supply of the HGH hormone is what allows the body to patch up these cells, helping you to bounce back stronger and faster. It also assists in converting fat to fuel and keeping the bones strong.

When you don’t log in enough hours, your body produces less HGH. This makes t harder for your body to fully recover. Unsurprisingly, lack of sleep may lead to injuries and a host of other problems down the road.

Sure, don’t take my word for it. Research has revealed that runners logged in more sleep hours for four days after a marathon compared to before the event. In fact, the runners were not properly recovered following just one night of extra sleep.

That’s not the whole story.

An experiment out of Stanford reported that subjects who upped their sleep time were able to increase their running sprinting speeds and hit more accurate tennis shots than they did while logging their typical amount of sleep.

Lack of sleep also has other dire ramifications.

Stress And Lack of Sleep

According to research published in Sports Medicine, sleep deprivation may lead to an increase in the secretion of catabolic hormones, like cortisol. This one usually gets released during stress times and often contributes to slower recovery times as well as other serious health issues.

Overeating

According to research by the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center, people who are sleep-deprived may consume roughly 300 calories or more per day.

Adequate sleep helps your body to balance hunger hormones.

For starters, ghrelin is what’s known as the hunger hormone. It essentially tells your body to eat more and when to eat. Your body releases more of this hormone when you’re sleep-deprived.

The other hormone affected by sleep is the Leptin hormone, which is the hormone in charge of the satiety feeling; when you’re sleep-deprived, your body produces less leptin.

Put these two together, and it’s not surprising that being sleep deprived sets most people up for overeating and weight gain.

Other side effects of sleep deprivation include:

  • Heart disease
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Impaired judgment
  • Obesity
  • Lower mental acuity,
  • Aged skin
  • Low productivity,
  • Accidents
  • Depression.
  • Decreased liver function

I could go on and on, but I think you get the big picture. The list is long and full of terrors.

For these reasons, and some more, if you make regularly deprive yourself of sleep, you’re likely not doing your fitness and health any favors.

How Much Sleep Should you Get?

This is a tricky question to answer because, like virtually anything else, sleep needs differ broadly by the individual, depending on many factors, such as training intensity, age, stress, environment, genetics, etc.

Here’s the truth. Everyone needs to sleep to function well. But runners, especially those logging serious miles every week, need to pay special attention to the number and quality of hours they sleep every night.

Most researchers put the sweet spot at around 7.5 hours of sleep per night, but over eight hours of shut-eye is a good benchmark to perform at your best.

What’s more?

As an s runner, aim for one additional minute in bed per night for every mile run during the week. This might not seem like a science-based rule, but it’s a good rule to follow nonetheless.

For example, if you’re running 42 miles per week, then your regular sleep per night should be 8 hours + 42 minutes. That means that you should be sleeping at least 60 hours a week instead of the recommended 50-55.

This may surprise many runners, but it makes perfect sense. The more you ask of your body, the more time you need to give to repair itself and recover.

Any increase in training load requires you more sleep so that your body can recover properly.

That’s why marathon runners will need more sleep than the occasional and recreational runner.  Otherwise, you won’t be recovering as well or as fast as you should.

What’s more?

As a runner, you should always listen to your body and do what it’s telling based on your energy levels and how much sleep you get when you’re performing at your best.

Your body is, after all, your best coach. Anything else is gravy.

And keep in mind, the longer and harder you train, the more time your body will require to repair itself and bounce back. There’s no way around that.

Don’t Forget About Quality

If you’re running a busy life, chances are you’re not getting enough sleep.

By now, you understand that proper sleep is a key component of a runner’s training. It’s actually as important, or more, as the training itself.

Now let’s look at some ways to help you get the most out of your sleep time so you can run and perform at your best.

Here are some of my favorite tips and guidelines to help you improve your sleep quality.

Sleep Optimization Tips

What doesn’t get prioritized gets marginalized? That’s why if you’re serious about sleeping enough, you should pay attention to your bad habits and make it a rule to log in enough hours. No matter what.

  • Make it a priority. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep by making sleep a priority. Go to bed at the same time every night and aim to wake up at the same time every morning. Adopt a “clockwork” mentality when it comes to sleep.
  • No heavy eating. Avoid any highly processed or heavy food in the three to four hours before going to bed.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Consuming stimulants, such as alcohol and caffeine, hurts sleep quality if consumed too close to bedtime. Thus avoid them within at least three hours before going to sleep.
  • Be gradual. Increase your daily sleep time in tiny increments instead of an overnight makeover. Go to bed 10 to 20 minutes earlier for one week, and then add one to ten extra minutes each week.
  • Schedule it. Train your body to get into a rhythm by keeping a regular bedtime and wake-up routine.
  • Make a routine. Build a ritual around your sleep time that includes doing activities that get your body ready to sleep, like showering, brushing your teeth, reading, or meditating.
  • Get rid of technology. Turn your bedroom into a cave: quiet, dark, cool, and comfortable. Do this by reducing light stimulation. You shouldn’t be checking your email at bedtime. Light hampers your body’s ability to release melatonin— a vital sleep hormone—which, in turn, interrupts your metabolic processes.
  • Nap power. Napping, the right way can give you a boost in energy.  Keep your naps under 30 minutes, max.  Napping for longer alters your sleep patterns and may also cause “sleep inertia,” which is the lingering groggy feeling after waking up.
  • Be careful on weekends. Avoid the social jet lag on the weekend. This helps you set your body’s internal clock, which, in turn, makes falling asleep and staying so easier.

My Routine

My sequence is simple. I usually turn off my laptop at 10:00 pm, take a shower, brush my teeth, lay out my work and workout clothes for the next day, meditate for 20 minutes, set the alarm clock, and go to bed by 11:00 pm. It’s not perfect every time, but I do my best to stick to it every day.

Conclusion

There you have it. If you’re serious about making the most out of your running routine, sleep is something that you cannot ignore. In fact, proper sleep should be part and parcel of any workout routine. The rest is just detail.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.

Keep training strong.

David D.