Sleep like an athlete and get faster - Women's Running

Sleep like an athlete and get faster

Author: Chris Macdonald

Read Time:   |  June 5, 2017



As a distance runner, there are so many things to think about and now there’s another piece of the puzzle to throw into the mix – sleep! Be honest – do you take your rest as seriously as you do your training and nutrition? Sleep is most definitely a big element you should focus on as a runner. Think of your training as three key components – training, nutrition and rest. If these three are in balance and are treated with equal importance, then you have a recipe for success.

Have you ever felt extra tired and just wanted to rest, be it before a run, during a run, after a run or simply generally tired all day long? This is clearly your body trying to tell you something. Equally, you may not realise you are tired, but at a cellular level full recovery is never taking place, as you are simply not sleeping enough or as much as you needto in order to reap the rewards from a training perspective. The everyday person can get away with sleep deprivation, but a performance runner (that’s you) simply can’t.

Recover well

Sleep is when the recovery process takes full effect. Eight to nine hours per night is optimal and if you are continuously getting less than six hour per night, then your running performance is going to suffer. Poor sleep can be an indicator of over training and also a contributing factor to it. During sleep, the body rebuilds itself and balances hormonally. It is when the recovery process takes place within the muscles and at a cellular level. So clearly, the person getting just four or five hours as opposed to eight or nine hours is massively compromising recovery. This leads to symptoms of over training, fatigue, a compromised immune system, reduced concentration and ultimately risk of injury, due to lack of quality regeneration.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where we are often highly stressed, short on time and in many cases bringing work home with us, or indeed not knowing when to “switch off” due to the wonders of technology. This causes the mind to be permanently over stimulated or a temptation to work into the early hours, meaning sleep patterns are erratic and shortened.

Have a snooze

You will hear many of the country’s leading athletes talking about afternoon naps after long runs or harder sessions. Realistically, the everyday runner can’t live like this all year round, but we canlearn from these athletes and bring a little of their rest patterns into our every day living. Here are eight changes you canmake that will improve your sleep habits…

1 Consistency

In the same way we promote consistency of training and nutrition, consistency of sleep is vital. Getting minimal amounts mid-week then trying to catch up with one huge weekend lie-in or a one-off early night won’t fool the body into thinking it’s recovered. A little more sleep consistently every night will work better.

2 It’s not a lie in!

Most of us have to be up early or choose to run early to get it done! So, the extra sleep needs to be added in the evening with earlier nights, rather than later mornings.

3 Small steps

Try getting to bed just 30 to 60 minutes earlier every night. This is a minimal improvement, I know, but the accumulative effect over the week will make a big difference.

4 Lock down!

Begin getting ready for bed much earlier than you think necessary – no distractions allowed! Leaving the washing up, kids’ packed lunches and last-minute emails until “just before bed” will mean you go to bed an hour or so later than intended. Try to get these things done much earlier, so that bedtime isn’t constantly getting pushed back.

5 Avoid stimulants

Avoid stimulants in the evening, both nutritionally and mentally. Caffeine, sugary drinks, sweets, alcohol, social media, work emails and last-minute replies to texts will all leave the body and mind stimulated before bed, thus compromising sleep quality.

6 Get napping

If you are someone who has the time or lifestyle, then afternoon naps – particularly on long-run day or double-run days – will work wonders in terms of recovery and energy levels.

7 Rough calculation

One rule of thumb used by many sports scientists is to take the number of miles you run per week and add that number (in minutes) to your usual nightly sleep time. It’s a broad calculation, but I have tried it myself and advised many runners to do it, and it certainly has a positive effect! Don’t believe it will make a difference? Aim for this for a period of three to four weeks and see what effect it has.

8 Sleep hygiene

This means dark rooms, alarm clocks that exude light rather than sound, so you wake up more naturally, and no electronic devices by the bed or used in the final hour before you go to sleep.

Chris Macdonald

Editor-at-Large, Women's Running

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