Train Smarter with More Sleep

A woman lays in bed sleeping.

Sleep is how you recover. You can do the best training in the world and yet if you’re not getting enough sleep, your body isn’t going to repair, and you’re not going to be able to get out the door day after day. More than that, you’ll be at an increased risk for a whole host of metabolic and psychological disturbances like diabetes, memory loss, heart disease, and depression to name just a few.

“Lack of sleep can also make you feel emotions more intensely, so you’re more likely to lash out at that jerk who cut you off in traffic,” says Ellen Wermter, NP, a provider at Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine. “Another consequence of poor sleep is that your self-regulatory behaviors are impaired." Put another way: you lack willpower.

With too little sleep you may end up eating a few extra slices of pizza or saying something you wish you hadn't.

Plus, according to Tressa Breindel, L.Ac MSOM of Integrated Health Richmond in Richmond, VA: “Even one extra hour of sleep per night can improve your athletic ability. Sleep is a major performance enhancer, and we just don’t get enough of it.”

“Even one extra hour of sleep per night can improve your athletic ability. Sleep is a major performance enhancer, and we just don’t get enough of it.”

Yep, we sure don’t. This summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared that sleep deprivation is now considered an epidemic. More than one-third of the US population sleeps less than seven hours per night. Those are frightening statistics.

As a runner, you may need even more sleep. “There is no magic number of sleep hours that is right for everyone,” says Wermter. “A more demanding training schedule will typically lead to an increased drive to sleep and listening to that drive is a smart move.”

Tell-tale signs you’re in the red? Wermter says to look out for daytime sleepiness, mood changes, and problems with memory or concentration. “Nodding off into your falafel? Forgetting your own dog’s name? Feeling strung out or irritable?” she says. “These are clues that we need to make sleep more of a priority.”

How, though? Here are five ways to make the most of your pillow time.

1. Don’t drink alcohol late in the evening, especially after a hard workout.

According to Wermter, “It alters sleep architecture, delaying REM sleep. While the sedation effects may initially promote sleep, as the alcohol metabolizes sleep disturbances abound and total sleep quality suffers."

On top of this, your body secretes human growth hormone (HGH) to aid recovery during the night. Alcohol has been proven to decrease HGH by a staggering 70 percent.

The result? A double hit to your recovery time. Not good.

A woman lays on a bed.

2. Eliminate blue light exposure before bed.

Blue light, the light emitted from the TV, computer, smart phones—virtually all of your electronics—produces so much energy it tricks your body into thinking it’s daylight.

It disrupts your circadian rhythm, decreases the production of melatonin, and therefore makes it harder for you to sleep.

The best thing you can do is put down your electronics altogether after dark. If that’s impossible, wear orange-tinted glasses (they filter out blue light) or download an App like f.lux for your computer and phone.

“Aim to eliminate blue light at least two to three hours before bedtime,” says Breindal.

3. Get to bed before 10 p.m.

Circadian Rhythms matter. Wermter says, “the majority of slow wave sleep occurs in the first portion of the night, preserving that time for sleep is key.”

If you’re not asleep by 10 p.m., you'll experience a shot of cortisol, the stress hormone. “Your body senses a disruption to its inherent circadian rhythm, and it thinks it needs to stay awake and adapt,” says Breindel. However, this adaptation makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

In short: be in bed 9:45 p.m., so that you have time to nod off by 10. If it takes longer than that, there might be an underlying problem.

4. Set the thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.

When you sleep, your body temperature naturally declines. Keeping your bedroom at a lower temperature will help you fall asleep faster and keep you asleep longer.

5. You track your miles, so why not track your sleep?

“This information may be useful as long as it doesn’t promote a tendency to hyper-focus on the data and allow it to create a situation where even our sleep becomes performance oriented,” cautions Wermter.

If not, the sleep tracking function of your GPS tech, like a GARMIN watch, could open up a world of understanding about why you feel tired even after you thought you slept for eight hours.

In truth, most of us don’t know how much sleep we really get. According to Wermter, “Our self-assessment may be far from reality. So, having some data points to compare can help us to see where we need to make improvements.”

It may sound almost too simple, but Breindel says you’ll know you’re getting enough sleep when you feel good. “You want to wake up happy about the day, and you want to feel like you have energy for your workouts."

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