“I’m supposed to sleep eight hours at night so I can be well rested for training during the day.”
© Usain Bolt, 6-Time Olympic Champion
Too often, runners will lose sleep to get to their training sessions early. What they don’t realize is that sleep can actually be their secret weapon, their “forgotten treasure”.
Sleep is essential to running your best and improving your overall performance. Sleeping longer enhances alertness, elevates mood, and improves athletic accuracy and sprinting speed. The human growth hormone (HGH) is released during the deep stages of sleep and is responsible for muscle and skeletal recovery after exercising. You’d be surprised how sleeping longer improves training, performance, and cognitive processes!
Proper sleep habits are essential and should be considered when setting physical goals, including running challenges. Sleep should be as important to your training plan as workouts and runs. Here are four steps you can take to improve your sleep habits:
Sleep Tip #1: Improve your sleep environment
Even minor details can have a serious impact on your sleep. Start with simple tasks like improving your sleep environment. Be sure your room:
- Is set to a comfortable temperature that’s conducive to good sleep (60–67°F or 16–19°C);
- Has a pleasant scent;
- Is quiet and free of disturbing noises;
- Open blinds for natural light, if it coincides with your optimal wake-up time. If you sleep past sunrise keep the blinds closed.
Sleep Tip #2: Kick your energy up a notch
Before a big marathon, you probably try to stay on track 24/7, which can often mean sacrificing sleep hours for daily goals. But giving up sleep often costs you energy and compromises your potential. Try these tips to increase your energy:
- Reduce coffee intake after 2 pm;
- Avoid intense exercise close to bedtime, which might make it harder to fall asleep;
- Eat a light meal a few hours before bedtime to give yourself time to digest;
- Don’t nap during the day (unless you really need to).
Sleep Tip #3: Reduce stress
Many runners are stressed before important marathons. But worrying about racing can make it harder to fall asleep! Try these mindfulness and relaxation practices to reduce anxiety:
- Do something relaxing 30 minutes before bedtime;
- Do a few yoga poses, or try stretching and deep breathing if you’re not a yoga person;
- Use a few minutes for worry time, and then set aside all your troubles to be solved the next day;
- Meditate for a few minutes before going to sleep.
Sleep Tip #4: Maintain a sleep schedule
A steady sleep schedule increases your chance of working out in the morning by about 20%. Try these tips to maintain a good sleep schedule:
- Set a bedtime and a wake-up time, then stick to them as much as possible;
- Try to follow your sleep schedule during weekends too;
- Don’t hit the snooze button!
Following these recommendations can be challenging. If you find yourself struggling, try keeping a sleep diary or tracking your sleep. Sleeprate can help track your sleep times, the quality of your sleep, and habits that may be interfering with your sleep. After tracking a few nights, you can get coaching on how to resolve your sleep issues: reset your biological clock, fall asleep faster, wake up less during the night, and reach the optimal amount of sleep your body needs.