As I’m sitting at work, staring at my screen, feeling like I could literally fall asleep with my hands on the keyboard…I’m realizing it’s only 9:30am and I’ve still got 6 hours to go. Geez. In the past week, I’ve had a few late nights (late for me – hit the hay at 2:30am) combined with my usual wakeup time of 5:30am. And frankly, it’s been killing me. KILLING me! I’ve done stuff like this before, and I always know what it’ll be like and that I won’t love it, and for some reason I always forget just exactly how hard sleep deprivation is on my body. Especially when I’m training!
So, what better way to pep talk myself about going to bed earlier than write a post on the importance of sleep? Though I’ve had fun choosing to stay up with friends, boys and life in general, I know I need my sleep in order to function during the day.
We’ve all been told that we need to get X amount of hours of sleep per night to live a “healthy” lifestyle. Well, when you’re training, the same rings true. Your body NEEDS things – things like water, nutrition, proper amounts of good fats and sugars AND sleep. Think about it. Who doesn’t love sleep? Or a good nap?
Sleep is a necessity. For example, when recovering from a long run or intense workout, sleep is just as important as rehydration and refueling. For real. Studies have shown that lack of sleep directly interferes with the metabolism of glucose, which is what muscles depend on for proper recovery, and even though it will vary for each individual, generally speaking, someone who’s training for a marathon or other race will need more sleep than someone who isn’t training to rebuild muscle tears and support muscle growth. All for the recovery process (and because you’re usually just tired after you run 25+ miles). Sleep, along with proper hydration, nutrition, stretching and strength conditioning, should be incorporated into your training schedule – regardless of what you’re training for.
Sleep also directly affects your immune system. Get this – those who have 6 hours or less of sleep per night have 50% LESS immunity protection than those who get 8 hours of sleep. If you’re training and feel you may be getting a cold, make sure you get at least 8 hours of sleep each night! One, for recovery and two, for immunity strength so you can continue in your training instead of holding off for healing.
Lack of sleep has also been linked to weight gain. There’s a hormone in your brain – Leptin – that regulates your appetite, and when you don’t get enough sleep, it isn’t secreted in accurate amounts, which can lead to more cravings during the day…more eating than normal…and weight gain. True story.
Now, the amount of sleep needed for top performance will be different for everyone. You may be able to function just fine on 4 hours while your friend needs at least 9 to perform well. Figuring out where you land on the sleep spectrum will totally help with your training!
If you can’t sleep the night before a race – don’t sweat it too much. Experts have found that just like nutrition, it’s the sleep you get 2 nights before a race that your body will be relying on for the majority of your race. I have lots of friends who carb load the night before a race. Though I don’t think that’s a bad thing, I don’t follow it religiously. The same is with sleep – I have one friend in particular who runs ultra marathons and two days before any race, he’ll take either some melatonin or Tylenol PM and knock himself out for a good 12 hour night of sleep. Says it helps him with the mental battle you deal with while running 50+ miles. That’s what works for him.
One thing is for sure – I know that when I stick to my sleep schedule and don’t vary on the weekends, my mind is more clear during a race and my muscles don’t fatigue quite as quickly. My recovery is also better and I’m able to get back to training right away instead of taking days to recoup and nurse my muscles back to health 🙂 This has been true during holidays, when I’m on vacation or just during a “regular” week of work and training. Plus, I’m always naturally happier when I get enough sleep! EVERYONE IS. And who doesn’t want to be happier?
All that being said…time to start chasing some zzz’s! Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream…