We’ve previously covered a great feature on the importance of sleep and exercise, and the main point was how sleep is the best form of recovery for your body, especially for active individuals. Recovery means you allow your body the chance it needs to recuperate so that you can keep pushing yourself to achieve tough goals on a more regular basis. It is essential to get better sleep as a runner, and even though runners tend to sleep well, in this feature we go into a bit more detail as to why and how…
Unfortunately, what seems to happen among too many people is that they often perceive sleep to be a luxury and that being able to train and perform well when you have had less sleep than needed makes you some kind of a bad-ass. The reality is that regardless of how well you might function after less sleep than the next person, you would perform better if you allowed yourself the right amount of sleep. As mentioned above, proper sleep allows you recover better than any other form of recovery methods and other benefits also exist which you might not have thought of.
There is a lot of research which has gone into what sleep can achieve for you, especially as a runner, or any other type of athlete in fact. Lack of sleep over time has a cumulative effect. Unfortunately the opposite is not true and you can not easily make up the sleep you’ve lost – you might feel a lot better by “catching up” for a single long nights sleep, but it will not make up for the total sleep you’ve lost over long periods of time and the amount of benefit you would have gained on those days after.
The amount of sleep needed is very individually specific. The more you run and train, the more you need to sleep. During tough training cycles, like that for marathons or half marathons, you’ll adjust your sleep to meet your current needs. The key is to listen to your body – if you’re feeling tired, even after a full nights sleep, you’re likely not getting enough rest and you need to increase the hours slept per night.
When you lack sleep in relation to your activity, you’ll slowly also increase the levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein and the stress hormone cortisol, keeping your heart rate higher and your nervous system constantly on alert. Hormones released while sleeping, which help recovery, are also limited if sleep is lacking and that means recovery takes longer than is best for you. Additionally, your body will not have enough time to store glycogen, and you’ll gas a lot sooner than you expect during a run. Sleep deprivation can also have an effect on your eating habits, often making you feel like you need to eat more than required.
When you know you’ll start a new training program or have a big race ahead, start increasing your sleep a week or two before. This ‘sleep-loading’, even if it’s for 3omin, will reap you great benefits and if it shows the benefits in your training and on race days, then it’s something you can look to do more frequently or reset your standard hours slept per regular night. Also, if you track the hours you sleep per night and you have a bad day’s run the next day, you can link it back to a lack of sleep the night before.
Sleep is very important and if you sleep according to what you specifically need, and according to your current activity levels, then you’ll see mountains of difference in your performance and recovery. Make an effort to invest in more sleep and live a healthier life overall.