Why Runners Need More Sleep

Why Runners Need More Sleep

Running sleep deprived can be as dangerous as driving intoxicated. While that true fact I made up for this post may be alarming, more alarming is that according to the American Psychological Association, “40 percent of adults experience daytime sleepiness severe enough to interfere with their daily activities.”

Wanting to get a jump start on the Minnesota Running Series, I signed up for Goldy’s 10 miler at the UofM months ago. My wife and I were expecting the birth of our first child on April 1. Two weeks before the race seemed like plenty of time to recover from any paternal sleep deprivation I may encounter. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Our son was born on April 8th! We spent a few days in the hospital, and finally came home on April 12. Although I picked up my race packet, five days of only a cluster of 2 hour naps wasn’t conducive to racing. I’ve always heard how tired you get with a newborn, but now I was experiencing it. I have been forgetting things and my entire body aches. I never realized how important sleep was.

How Running and Sleep are Connected

The National Sleep Foundation says that “sleep is as essential as diet and exercise. Inadequate sleep can result in fatigue, depression, concentration problems, illness and injury.” Prior to this week, I’d say I average about 7 hours per night. Not a lot, but enough to ward off most of these issues.

As runners, we need more sleep than the average person. When you train hard, your muscles need time to rest. When we sleep, our body releases growth hormone. This is what stimulates muscle growth and repair, as well as bone building and fat burning. It enables you to run again another day. This is the stuff that some pro-athletes have recently been in trouble for doping with.

When you are sleep deprived, you can’t release as much, and your muscles don’t get repaired properly. Inevitably, this leads to injuries. Additionally, sleep helps “general protein synthesis, cell growth and division, and tissue repair and growth.” It also does a whole bunch of great stuff for your brain, and helps fight off disease and boost your immune system.

How Much Sleep do You Need?

Everyone is different. Some people can seemingly get away with very little. Research suggests that getting a minimum of 7.5 hours is necessary. Most professional athletes get about 10. According to a sleep study at Stanford, athletes who “increased their sleep time ran faster sprints and hit more accurate tennis shots than they did while getting their usual amount of sleep.” The harder that you train, the more sleep you need.

The research also suggests that one or two restless nights before a big race isn’t damaging. If you’re getting good sleep, tossing and turning the night before the Boston Marathon won’t kill your time. If you’re curious about the quality of your sleep, try using an app like Sleep Cycle to measure yours. Don’t rob yourself of your top performance though. Go to bed!

How to Improve Your Sleep Quality

If you have young children, a demanding job, are a student, or a life whatsoever, you’re likely not getting enough sleep. Here are a few tips to help you improve your sleep quality to run your best.

  • Make sleep a priority! It is as important as your speed work.
  • Get on a schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up close to the same time every day.
  • Take a mid-day nap. Just 30 minutes can boost your energy.
  • Keep your room dark, cool and quiet. All of these will help you count sheep faster.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol. Both are linked to decreased sleep quality.
  • Turning off the TV, smart phone, computer, etc at least an hour before bed helps increase your sleep quality.

How much sleep do you get? What can you do to get a better nights sleep tonight?

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Nathan Freeburg

Senior Consultant at Leadership Vision Consulting
Nathan currently lives in Portland, but works in Minneapolis and runs wherever he is. Favorite Minnesota running route is anything that takes him along the Mississippi River.

Nathan started running when he was 14. 20+ years later, he's still going. When he's not running, he enjoys exploring the city with his son, finding new restaurants with his wife, traveling, or backpacking.

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  • Theresa Kavouras

    Hi Nathan! I agree with this whole-heartedly. My best runs always come after a few days of great sleep. I aim for 8 hours a night, but it ends up being closer to 7. Funny that you posted this today because last night was my first attempt to go for more so I was in bed at 9:30pm….lights out at 10pm. 7:45…I’m gonna do better tonight!

    I’ve been struggling with peri-menopausal symptoms, and I heard that the supplement Magnesium Glycinate works for this. So I started that…plus L-Glutamine. I have high hopes!

    • frenat

      Stick with it Theresa! More sleep is always a good thing.

      Nathan

      • Theresa Kavouras

        Oh! And congratulations on your new bundle of joy. Before you know it, he’ll be 13…and you’ll wonder where the time went! ;)

  • Brian Funk

    Congratulations on your new addition! We’re both happy for you guys.

    • frenat

      Thanks guys!

      Nathan

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