Runners are willing to do almost anything to improve speed and increase endurance. They consume dietary supplements, get obsessed over shoe recommendations, and seek potential advantages, no matter how small, to improve performance.
Sleep seems to get little attention from the running community. It is, however, a potential powder keg of improvement. Whether this is because getting enough sleep seems like an “obvious” requirement for overall good health and improved running performance, or because it sounds like an overly simple recommendation, the message does not seem to be getting out.
Amidst the hectic pace of urban life and the demands of work, social commitments, and other activities, time is at a premium. Unfortunately for a lot of runners, when life’s duties require more time than seems available, sleep gets sacrificed.
Running on Empty
According to Shelby Harris, PsyD., clinical psychologist and director of the Behavioral Sleep Program at Montefiore Medical Center, not getting enough sleep affects the ability of the body to efficiently store carbohydrates.
This can lead to running out of gas faster on a run and circumvents the common practice of carbohydrate-loading prior to a big race.
She also mentions that deep sleep helps the body repair itself by releasing human growth hormone. Without the deep sleep a body needs, it will need more time to recover from exercise and can make runs less productive, as the body does not convert fat to fuel as efficiently.
The effects of these losses in physiological efficiency can clearly be seen in the a study by BJ Martin which tested eight participants on a treadmill after sleep deprivation. The time needed to reach exhaustion was decreased by 11 percent.
Runners who do not get enough sleep should expect endurance to suffer.
Perceptions of Exhaustion
Rarely does anybody feel like tasks are easier and less taxing after not getting enough sleep. This applies to running as well. In a study by Oliver et al., runners were asked to run after 30 hours without sleep.
Despite running less than a previously performed control run with adequate sleep, the participants reported similar effort. It should be noted that this was only a 30 minute run. This perception of greater exertion only makes sense. Any task seems more difficult when the participant is already tired before it starts, even if it is only a short distance run.
Putting Fuel in the Tank
One of the best tips to run better is to eat a proper diet. It adds fuel to the body and builds overall health. Equally important, though, is the need for good sleep. It also fuels the body by repairing and energizing the muscles and organs.
What constitutes a good night’s sleep? The human body needs 7 to 8 hours of sleep to function, and there is little evidence that getting extra sleep beyond that offers much in the way of improved ability.
When, Where, and How
Not everybody is so fortunate as to be able to fall asleep the moment their heads hit the pillow. When considering how to have a good sleep, consider these suggestions:
- Try to establish a regular time of going to bed and waking up. It is easier to sleep on a regular schedule than sleeping at random times.
- Engage in a relaxing activity before bed, such as reading a book, listening to soothing music, or taking a warm bath.
- Avoid naps, as they make it more difficult to sleep at nighttime.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and other stimulants like energy drinks. These are known contributors to insomnia.
- Maintain a regular exercise routine. Active individuals tend to have an easier time falling asleep, rest more deeply, and awake more refreshed.
Also, make sure a comfortable bed is being slept on. Couches, old mattresses, and crumbling bed frames are not conducive to a restful night’s sleep. If it is time to get a new bed, check out a wide variety before settling on one in order to determine what feels best.
Remember, approximately one third of a person’s life is spent sleeping, so it is an important consideration.
Go ahead and continue analysing gait patterns, scouring the latest running tips, comparing electrolyte drinks, and examining all of the other factors that runners consider when trying to up speed and endurance.
Eat. Sleep. Run. Repeat.
Just make sure that sleep does not get relegated to a minimal concern. Getting that needed sleep will ensure that peak performance is achieved on every run.