Sleep deprivation sabotages your running training and could dent your time on race day…
Well-rested athletes are more motivated, better at making tactical decisions and recover faster from exercise. Whether you’re running a charity fun run or a full blown marathon, your sleep routine is as important as your training routine – especially in the final weeks and crucially two days before you’re due to cross the start line.
Stanford’s sleep study showed that athletes who increased their sleep time ran faster sprints. And if you’re hyper competitive, you could trim 7 seconds off your 8km race time when you sleep an extra 30 minutes. But losing hours of shuteye could stop you from reaching your goal, dashing your hope of a glorious PB.
Sleep smart after training, recover faster from workouts
Marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe was known to sleep for around nine hours each night and nap for two hours in the afternoon. Why?
Your body heals during the third and fourth stages of sleep. Within 20 minutes of falling asleep, your pituitary gland releases the human growth hormone – building and repairing your muscles and bones. Making athletes stronger. Your body will recover from workouts easier because it also helps your body to use fat as fuel. So by napping, sleeping twice a day, you’ll get a double hit of the hormone, accelerating your recovery.
Meanwhile, chronic sleep deprivation floods your body with cortisol (stress hormone) making it harder for you to repair and grow muscle while disrupting glucose metabolism – you’ll store less energy from the food you eat, giving you less fuel to run on. Also, you tend to eat an unhealthier diet when you’re tired, which isn’t ideal for training.
Stick to this sleep routine in the run up to your race
1. Schedule your training runs to finish at least three hours before going to bed
Exercise can make you feel more alert and less sleepy.
2. Get a solid 6-8 hours sleep every night
Eight hours in bed doesn’t give you eight hours of sleep, so spend more time in bed. Elite marathon runners sleep eight hours or more a night and have mid-day naps to recover from their training – give yourself a 20 minute boost. Naps longer than that will make you feel groggy.
The more you run, the easier it is to sleep. The longer you sleep, the easier it is to run.
3. Stick to your sleep routine even on weekends
Go to bed at the same time every night and climb out from under your sheets at the same hour each morning. Even the occasional lie in will make it trickier to get up for training.
4. But slowly shift your sleep routine days before your race
Have to get up early to check in or line up at the start of your race? Go to bed 20 minutes earlier and wake up 20 minutes earlier in the run up to your race – waking up early won’t be a shock to your system then.
5. Sleep on a sports mattress
Olympic bronze medallist Kristian Thomas and the most successful British female Paralympian of all time Dame Sarah Joanne Storey are just two of the professional athletes who have slept on a Bed Guru Active Sports Mattress. Give yourself a competitive edge, find out more.
How to sleep the day before race
Your body can physically perform at the same level after one bad night’s sleep. But you seriously have to have your head in the game. Even small runs could feel difficult. Tired athletes feel like they’re working a lot harder than usual – lose sleep and you could lose motivation and confidence with it, because sleep deprivation can make you think negatively and feel nervous on race day.
Sleep is never more important than in the final two days before your race. Here’s how you can get enough of it…
1. Prepare for your race early the day before
Go to bed without worries that keep you up at night. Organise your kit and pack your car early the day before your race – you’re not supposed to train the day before a marathon, so you can wash everything ahead of time. Later, set your alarm and triple check it, so you know you’ll make it to the start line on time.
2. Relax before bedtime
We have more than a few ideas for de-stressing before bed. The best for nervous athletes? Soak in a warm bath, stretch lightly and listen to soothing music, read or drink herbal tea.
3. Visualise success
Find you’re too anxious to sleep? Imagine your ideal race day – waking up on time and standing at the start line, running your race exactly planned and setting a personal record. Distract yourself from pre-race jitters like this and you should fall asleep in no time at all.
Good luck, you’re now ready to run like the wind! At least you probably don’t have to push a bed through a Yorkshire town, like we did at the 2016 Great Knaresborough Bed Race.
London Marathon medal image copyright Nick Webb, licensed for use under Creative Commons.