• Helen Phillips

Sleep Essentials for Success


Question … Do you think rest is as important running, strength and conditioning and good nutrition when training for a half or a marathon?

Well it is! As a runner in training you really need to be focusing on rest and sleep alongside training and nutrition.

Read on to find out more about Sleep Essentials for Success.

On average most people sleep for about 6 - 7 hours a night, but ‘need’ around 8 hours or more quality sleep, although we’re all different.

This isn’t great news. Sleep is an essential part of our physiology and is important for our health and wellbeing. When you’re sleep deprived, it affects your metabolism and so you crave sugary foods and carbohydrates. Sleep deprivation can eventually lead to diabetes and heart trouble, cause depression and social problems.

For us runners, sleep is critically important as it’s when the recovery process takes place within the muscles and at a cellular level.

As a runner you need more sleep than the average person and should be aiming for eight to nine hours per night! If you’re only getting four or five hours you wont be sleeping enough to recover and reap the rewards from training and your lack of sleep could compromise your recovery, leading to symptoms of overtraining syndrome, reduced performance, fatigue and a higher risk of injury.

Non runners can get away with sleep deprivation, but runners in training can’t!

Sleep is really important when training for a marathon or half. During sleep a lot of important things are happening to aid in the recovery process.

It's during slow wave sleep, the deepest portion of a typical sleep cycle, when the body heals itself. Human growth hormone is released, which plays a key role in building and repairing muscle tissue and bones, as well as acting as a catalyst for the body to use fat as fuel. If you don’t have the right amount of this hormone in your blood, recovery from running will be impaired and it’ll take longer for you to build strength to power your running performance.

When you’re sleep deprived the level of human growth hormone reduces and cortisol ("the stress hormone"), increases. Too much cortisol prohibits the body from recovering fully and can also interfere with the repair and growth of soft tissue, not great news for us runners.

Also poor sleep quality of only a few days can cause a disruption in glucose metabolism, which is the process where-by energy is stored (in the form of glycogen) from food. If enough glycogen isn’t being produced we can't get our glycogen stores in our muscles and liver high, which means we might bonk sooner during longer runs.

How can I get better sleep?

Avoid exercise later in the day

Running late in the day can disrupt your sleep cycle as your body temperature, as well as cortisol levels will be high. So try to run a little earlier in the day, rather than just before you head to bed.

Aim for similar amounts of sleep each night

Binging on sleep during the week and playing catch up at the weekend isn’t a great idea when you’re training. You need to consistently have better and longer nights sleep throughout the week for optimal recovery.

It’s often difficult to have a lie in, due to the pressures of getting the kids to school, getting to work or going out for a run, so try to go to bed 30 – 60 minutes earlier each night to get more sleep. To do this get organised for the next day earlier in the evening and avoid late evening emails, texts, calls and facebook-ing!

Avoid stimulants

Caffeine, sugary drinks, and alcohol all stimulate the body and mind which will impact on your sleep quality. Cut down or avoid drinking tea, coffee and caffeine containing drinks and foods in the evening and the afternoon if you think caffeine sensitivity is impacting the quality of your sleep.

Also limit the days you drink alcohol. Alcohol metabolism raises the body’s temperature which has a detrimental impact on sleep quality.

Try power napping

If you have the time or lifestyle, then afternoon naps will also help your recovery and energy levels.

Make your bedroom a sleep zone

Ensure your room is cool and dark, your mattress is comfortable and supportive and limit electronic devices in the room.

LED-based devices, such as phones, tablets, the TV and laptop, emit blue light, which can boost cortisol levels and can make it harder for you to sleep. Cortisol is the fight-or-flight “stress” hormone that is designed to get us up and moving when we’re confronted with danger and that can have a significant impact on melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep. So for a good nights sleep switch off devices 30 – 60 minutes before bed.

In summary, sleep is super important to allow your body repair from the training effort you’re putting it under. So make sure you ramp up your sleeping right now to ensure you’re recovering well to recover and maximise your race day performance.

If you're training for a marathon this autumn or have your sights on one for next spring join Marathon Club Hub for support along your marathon training journey.

Click HERE to find out more.