Sleep? Are your really talking about sleep on a running blog? Isn’t sleep the opposite of what we should be doing? Runners get better by running, not sleeping…..right?
Sleep is vital if you want to have success in running. I hope that is good news to you because I love sleep. When it’s about 8:30pm I am ready for bed. In fact, my kids always beg to stay up and I’m begging that they go to bed. My wife is a night person too but I am ready for sleep! Usually by 10pm I am happily laying down for the night.
Getting straight to it you need 7 to 8 hours of it a night. Everyone is different so that may vary a little but for most of us a solid 7 to 8 hours as adults is important. Note there is an anomaly of people out there that can get away with about 4 hours of sleep a night but for most of us….that is not us. I wish that was me but it simply isn’t! Obviously younger people do need more sleep because they are still growing and their brains are still developing. There are different types of sleep in our sleep cycle (light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep). This is why it is important to get 7 to 8 hours because going through these cycles about 5 times a night is important for the body and mind.
I encourage you to read about sleep cycles and go find articles, studies, and books written for athletes. One particular endurance athlete who is also a physician who specializes in recovery for athletes is Greg Wells. He is author of the book Rest, Refocus, and Recharge.
I have noticed that after my hard workout days or races I tend to sleep less that night but my sleep is deeper. During the weeks my training mileage is higher and more intense I might sleep less but it is probably better quality of sleep. So don’t get discouraged if you don’t get exactly 7 to 8 hours of sleep all the time. In fact, I have no problem sleeping. My wife is always amazed at how fast I fall asleep at night and how soundly I sleep. I think it is a combination of my sleep routine and my training load.
Is there such thing as too much sleep? Well, yes. However, even the most fit of us need some extra sleep from time to time or a good nap here and there. It’s amazing what a power nap (about 20 minutes) can do sometimes. Scientists and athletes both are discovering more and more how important sleep and a “recovery” period is for those of us who are working out and trying to achieve certain fitness goals. Sleep is just one part of the whole equation. Other recovery tools might include yoga, stretching, meditation, breathing exercises, compression, massage, ice-baths, and so on.
So, as runners we do get better by having better quality of sleep? Yes! Good sleep allows our bodies and minds to heal so that we can go harder in our training. Investing in a good pillow and comfortable mattress is worth the money. Having a evening bed time routine like dimming the lights, taking a half hour to read, doing some light stretching, or whatever you are in the habit of doing before bed helps trigger your mind and body that it is time to sleep. Being in a disciplined routine and doing all the little things do add up. That is what the greatest athletes are good at, managing all the little things. It takes even more discipline and sacrifice to not only train like a champion. Some of us have this figured out, but to eat like a champion, think like a champion, and sleep/recover like a champion…..well…..those are the things that will take us to the next level.