Why Skimping on Sleep Isn’t the Best Idea for Endurance Athletes?
I love sleeping. Nope, I am not talking about sleeping in. As a runner, I am an early bird. Over the last year I have learned that, sleep for athletes is an important recovery tool. However, I have become a lite sleeper. Any minor interruption wakes me up at night. Either it’s my kids having a nightmare, neighbors’ car or my restless mind thinking about the tasks I must do for my business.
Many athletes do not clock in enough sleep. During the physically strenuous activity cycle, sleep becomes even more critical. Getting enough recovery sleep for athletes is very critical for athlete’s performance.
Benefits of Logging Sleep for Athletes while Training
Three reasons why you need to clock in more sleep during training cycles are;
To reap the benefits from training runs it’s critical to log in enough sleep so that your body can recover. Our body releases Human Growth Hormone (HGH) during the deeper stages of sleep (1). HGH is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland and released into the bloodstream (1). This hormone helps repair muscles, strengthen bones, and convert fat to fuel. In a nutshell, without adequate sleep, our bodies have a hard time properly recovering from workouts and utilizing energy stores.
Increasing Mileage Mean More Sleep
During the training cycle, when the running mileage gets high, the body needs more sleep. Because, while logging a lot of miles, you’re depleting your energy and fluid stores and breaking down muscle tissue. I start feeling sleepy during the day or want to sleep earlier if I am not getting in enough sleep.
Increases Injury Risk
For endurance athletes, the repetitive nature of the movements, high mileage, and more challenging training already puts them at higher injury risk. Now add sleep deprivation to the equation, and the risk of injury (2), illness, and overtraining increases many folds.
How Much Sleep is Enough?
Literature suggests at least 7.5 hours of sleep but over 8 hours of sleep is a good benchmark to have your best performance when running your base mileage (3). It’s recommended that runners should add a minute per mile per night that they run in the week during the volume and intensity building phases of training (4). So, if you are averaging 35 miles a week like me, you should add 35 minutes to your nightly sleep time. Let’s say you aim for eight hours every week then your nightly sleep should be
Regular sleep per night = 8 hours + 35 minutes for running about 35 miles per week
After reading the literature, it made complete sense. I was fatigued because I wasn’t getting enough sleep and recovery. This formula means I should be sleeping almost 60 hours a week instead of my usual 45 hours a week average. I was feeling drained all the time. My training runs started getting affected due to a lack of sleep and recovery.
Tips for Better Sleep for Athletes
Keep a consistent bed and wake time, even on weekends. A predictable sleep schedule helps maintain the body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm. Many internal body functions follow circadian patterns, like heart rate, blood pressure, and other cardiovascular functions. Sleep deprivation also inhibits the secretion of human growth hormone (HGH), which helps build lean muscle mass and aids in recovery.
Turn off your electronic devices an hour before bed. Yes, don’t sleep with your smartphone in bed. I see you on IG at night. YES, YOU! According to the National Sleep Foundation, due to the blue light emitted by smartphones, TVs, computers, and other electronic devices, the use of these devices should be limited in the hours leading up to bedtime. Try to turn the devices off at least an hour before bedtime.
Avoid strenuous exercise too close to bedtime. This one might seem counterintuitive but try to avoid a run or work out too close to bedtime. Avoiding strenuous exercise 60–90 minutes before bedtime is best. Not all activities are equal when it comes to sleep regulation. Yoga or gentle stretching exercises relax and calm the body, making it ready for bedtime.
Avoid heavy meals and caffeine too close to bedtime. Try to give some space between your dinner and rest. You don’t want to be too full going to bed. I love caffeine, but it’s best to stop consuming caffeine in the afternoon. Caffeine can disrupt your sleep up to six hours after finishing it. (5)
Make your bedroom sleeping heaven. Keep your bedroom cool and dark. Keep the electronic devices out of the bedroom. Messy rooms are stressful. Keep your room calm by keeping it organized.
Now you know the why and how of the logging in enough sleep during your training cycle. Try to add good quality sleep to your daily routine and you will reap the performance benefits.
2- doi: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000418
3- doi: 10.3389/fspor.2021.705650
4- doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0194705
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About the Author
Aesha Tahir is a health and wellness coach and a certified personal trainer. She holds a Master’s degree in Applied Exercise Science and is certified by the NASM as a Personal trainer. She is a certified USA Track and Field Running Coach and Road Runners of America Coach. She is a 200-HR Registered Yoga Teacher. She is also a group exercise instructor specializing in barre, spinning, strength training, boot camp, and yoga classes. She has over five years of experience in the fitness and wellness arena with focused expertise in coaching, corrective exercise and injury prevention, individualized fitness programs, and group fitness programs. She is also an aspiring public speaker in the fitness and wellness world who believes in this quote; “To be inspired is great, but to inspire is incredible.”