Poor sleep quality can affect every single aspect of your life. While there’s no scientific equation that reveals how much sleep each individual runner needs, your body is most likely giving you clues if you’re not getting enough. If you’re falling asleep the second your head hits the pillow, for instance, or if you’re dozing off at meetings or in movies, or if you rely on caffeine to get you through the day. You may feel these symptoms are a result of really tough workouts at 5am, but most likely, you need more sleep.
Time poverty is a real struggle for most Americans, and while most of us probably need or want more sleep, it doesn’t always work that way. We work, we train, we socialize, we have families and pets and priorities galore. Sleep is usually an essential that we go without in order to fit more activities or tasks into the day. But the longer we go sleep deprived, the shorter amount of time lapses before true exhaustion sets in.
It’s during sleep that our body recovers from the day’s training and tasks. It’s when our brain gets to rest and rewire. During sleep, our bodies do all kinds of clever things, like releasing HGH (human growth hormone) which repairs and rebuilds damaged tissue and muscles.
Over time, sleep deprivation causes HGH levels to diminish along with your focus; your body will find it harder and harder to recover from your workouts and you will find yourself irritable, unable to concentrate or push through a tough speed workout. Sleep deprivation also inhibits the body’s ability to turn carbohydrates into glycogen effectively, so runners are at higher risk of hitting the wall and cramping on too little sleep. Without sleep, general calamity beckons.
Sleeplessness and trouble falling asleep can plague any athlete, even with a schedule packed to the brim with training, work, social and family commitments. First, take a look at your routine in order to establish changes that might help improve both quality and quantity of sleep.
Stick to an evening routine. About an hour before you want to sleep, focus on relaxing. Sip some chamomile tea, read a book. Experts will tell you to turn off all screens, so no phone, tablet, computer or television because the light emitted from those devices disrupts melatonin production. Do a 15-minute evening yoga practice to wind down. Try to go to bed around the same time every night and wake up around the same time every morning. Establishing a routine that works with your lifestyle is the first step, and a key part in regular quality sleep.
There are all kinds of nifty devices that track sleep quality and quantity these days. This data can be especially helpful in determining how much sleep you actually need. If you notice you’re getting six hours of sleep on average and you’re relying on caffeine to get you through your day, you might need to adjust your routine to allow for an extra 30 minutes to an hour of sleep.
Take some time to get your life organized. Make lists and keep a notepad by your bed for random loose ends you remember before turning in. Get your clothing and supplies ready the night before. Plan, but know that at any moment you may need to deviate from that plan and have a plan B, or at least a coping strategy for when things don’t go your way. Poor organization can cause anxiety, anxiety can cause restlessness. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Evening runs and workouts could be a culprit for trouble falling asleep. For some athletes, coming down from the adrenergic qualities of exercise takes longer than others, and it’s best for those runners to train first thing in the morning if possible.
Figuring out your sleep needs as an athlete and adjusting your schedule accordingly can take time, so have patience with yourself.