Whatever our reasons for running – be it for general health, to lose weight or to train up for a race – we tend to take our training quite seriously. We’ll carefully plan our training days and our post-run meals and, if we’re preparing for a race, we’ll have done so meticulously for months. We’ll even have worked out our travel arrangements to get to the start line and ensured we’ve broken in any new kit. One essential factor we may not have worried about so much, though, or may even have compromised, is getting enough sleep. This may not only dramatically impact our performance – and our recovery – but also our general health.
If you’re always operating on not enough sleep, you may find it hard to step back and change your sleep routine. “Sleep does much more than just top up your energy levels,” advises GP Dr Juliet McGrattan. “With the extra demands that running puts on your body, you have to allow it to recover and the majority of this happens when you’re asleep.”
Even though our minds are at rest when we sleep, our bodies are very busy. “Sleep is a restorative process and, during the night-time hours, the repair processes are hard at work,” says McGrattan. “Your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate and body temperature all reduce. Your muscles relax and the blood ow to them increases.”
Growth hormone levels also peak during sleep to allow tissue growth and repair. Hunger hormones are also regulated; they tend to increase with insufficient sleep. Waste products are removed and energy is restored. Who would have known our bodies do so much without us even knowing?
Long periods of sleep deprivation will have a knock- on effect on your running, affecting your performance. “Not only will you be unable to get those times and distances you were aiming for, but you’ll take longer to recover after runs,” warns McGrattan. “Your injury risk increases as reaction times, focus and concentration are lowered with lack of sleep, meaning simple stumbles and trips are more frequent.”
Like an overdraft, being in the red for a few days here and there won’t harm you. But if you’re constantly short on sleep, your general health will be affected. “Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety are more common in people with long-term lack of sleep,” says McGrattan. She also references a study from the University of Warwick in 2011, which showed that disturbed sleep of less than six hours duration can increase your risk of dying from or developing heart disease by 48 per cent and stroke by 15 per cent.
Scrimping on sleep may also lead to weight gain, says McGrattan. “A lack of sleep has been linked to increased insulin resistance and therefore a greater risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes.”
During your pre-sleep period, set up a good bedroom routine. This means reducing light stimulation, including a complete tech break; screens should not be in the bedroom. None of us should be checking our emails at bedtime! Take 10 minutes to complete a yoga or meditation exercise, or lie at and contract then release the main muscle groups one by one, starting with the toes.
It’s common for nerves or excitement to disrupt your sleep before a race. If you’re traveling to the event the day before, try to ensure you arrive with plenty of time to unwind before you start your normal sleep routine. Prepare yourself during the day, getting your kit organised and checking any travel details, to give yourself the best possible chance to relax.