Everyone needs to sleep to live. But athletes, and more importantly endurance athletes especially need to be conscious of the number of hours they sleep as well as the quality of that rest. At least 7.5 hours of sleep is suggested by most researchers today but over 8 hours of sleep is a good benchmark to have your best performance.
This number is different for everyone though and as an athlete, constantly listen to your body and do what it is telling you based on how you feel when you are at your best.
Always keep in mind, the harder you train, the more your body will need to repair itself after strenuous activity. Sleeping longer will be a key part of helping your body and muscles recover so that you can be energized to keep running during a race, or continue to cut down on race times and reach personal bests.
Does Sleep Effect Your Running?
Do you ever feel groggy and tired all day when you do not sleep enough or have a restless night tossing and turning? Most of us do. Sleep and the quality of it will absolutely effect your running and any type of athletic performance. Take a look at this Stanford study done on basketball players who were asked to sleep more than they normally did over a five to seven week period.
In this small sample, every single one of them performed better in sprints as well as other measurable tests for their sport. I know this study does not specifically pertain to running however it is clear that with more sleep, athletes of all types are able to perform better in some capacity.
Beyond that, have a look at this study done with a questionnaire for ultra-marathoners and ultra-runners around the world. Although the results are somewhat inconclusive, obviously in order to be at your best on race day, you need to plan accordingly. Never underestimate a good night’s sleep before a race and potentially during a race of longer length.
Sleeping during a race can differ from athlete to athlete but consistency is the key. If you function well on 8 hours of sleep before and 20 minute naps during a race, sticking to that schedule will help your body recover in the time it has and this will help you finish races, and race more efficiently.
Should You Run On Little Sleep?
You can do anything on little to no sleep if you will yourself however your performance will obviously suffer in ways different for everyone. With less sleep, you will be less recovered from the previous day, have less motor functions, and have slightly lower cognitive ability. This will all inherently have an adverse effect of your running or your race times.
Despite the fact that you can run on little sleep, it is unhealthy to do so. If you try to run on less and less sleep over a longer period of time, your performances will almost certainly suffer compared to getting a good night’s sleep every night. If you want to keep yourself at peak performance, make sure to get a good night of sleep before a race and throughout your training.
Is 6 Hours of Sleep Enough? Is 7?
6 Hours of sleep is not enough time for a runner to be well rested and ready for a run or for on race day. Nor is 7 hours enough sleep for any athlete. As stated earlier, at least 7.5 hours is recommended for anyone to have a good night’s sleep but more than that will always be better.
If you want to be at your best for any activity, make sure you properly prepare to get a good night’s sleep and know what your body needs for it to be at its peak performance.
How Much Sleep Should You Get Before A Race? This question should be answered before race day while training and will be different for everyone. Get to know your sleep habits well and when you feel at your best after a night of sleep.
For some people 8 hours will be the perfect amount of time but for others 8.5, 9, or even 10 hours will allow them to be at their peak performance. See how your energy levels are months before a race while training after getting different amounts of sleep. Then you will be able to clue in on a number of sleeping hours that will have you well rested and ready to race at your best the day of.
How Much Sleep Should You Get After A Race? Depending upon how long the race is, over 9 hours of sleep should be a good start to help your body fully recover from the strenuous activity you participated in. I would always recommend sleeping as much as possible after a long race or even just a long run. This recovery will be crucial to personal improvement and not being susceptible to injuries.
How To Get Better Sleep As A Runner
There are many ways to get a better night’s sleep. Below I’ll list a few that are well recommended and should work for those that want to sleep longer and deeper.
- Make sure you put your body on a consistent sleep schedule by making sleep a priority. Got to sleep at the same time every night and try to wake up at the same time every morning. Do not snooze your alarm. This will allow your body to know when it needs to rest and recover, and thus will naturally be prepared to do so during those set hours.
- Keep your room dark and cool. If you need a white noise machine to help you fall asleep and keep out unwanted noise, I’d highly recommend using that too. Having the room dark and cool will help you fall asleep faster and keep out distractions for better quality sleep.
- Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol. Both are strongly associated with decreased sleep quality.
- Stay away from your phone and screens right before bed. Research shows that being on devices as little as 30 minutes before bedtime decreases sleep quality. Read a book instead to help get you ready to sleep.
- Stay hydrated or drink sleepy-time tea. Staying hydrated will allow you to have increased sleep quality while the tea will have natural ingredients like chamomile and valerian which are know to have sedative effects.
Tracking Your Sleep Like Your Training
I spoke to this topic a little bit earlier in the article however I will reiterate, tracking your sleep and sleep schedule will help your figure out how much sleep you need to be at your own peak performance. Just like your running, be sure to track how many hours you sleep each night and how you feel during that day with regard to energy levels and drowsiness throughout your waking hours.
After even just a short period of tracking, you will start to see some patterns emerge in that schedule and can draw some conclusions about how many hours of sleep are best for you.
Just because someone else functions great on 7.5 hours of sleep does not mean that you have to as well or even can. Everyone is different so spend time figuring out how much sleep you will need to be at your best. This is even good practice for everyday life too so that you know how to be well rested and ready to tackle the day.
Running and Insomnia
There is no cure all for those that love running and also have insomnia. Have a look at this article following Tera Moody, an Olympic marathon runner, and her struggles with insomnia throughout her life and the quest to get a good night sleep while training or before a big race.
I would recommend trying a lot of different remedies which may or many not work to varying degrees. Everything from over the counter medication, to sleepy-time tea, to just trying to lay down and rest your body when you cannot sleep might work for some people.
Insomnia is a legitimate medial condition so consult a doctor to see how they might be able to help or what they recommend as a remedy to sleepless nights.
Does Running Make You Sleep More?
Just like any physical activity, once your body gets on a consistent schedule, it will adapt to get what it needs. When you begin running or any strenuous activity consistently, you will initially be more tired and thus need to get more sleep to be at your best.
As you fall into more of a routine however, your body will adapt to the amount of sleep needed and will regulate itself. The more routine you are, the better your body will be at recovering when it needs to and especially while sleeping.
How To Fall Asleep After Running
There are many ways to fall asleep after running but being tired after an intense workout should do the trick for most. Taking cold baths to reduce the swelling of muscles after running is a great remedy as well and that swelling might otherwise keep some athletes awake.
Beyond that, follow some of the tips outlined above on how to get a better night sleep. Those tips should help you fall asleep after a long run or after a race. Give yourself plenty of time to cool down before getting into bed so that your heart rate is not still up. Also, make sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated throughout the night. This will aid in the recovery of muscles while asleep as well.
Everyone is different. I’ve stated this many times throughout the article but I cant emphasize it enough. Your sleep schedule will be different than your partner, your friends, and your fiercest competition on race day. Figure out what works for you to get a good night sleep and to be at your peak performance level, and stick to it.
Cameron is a freelance writer with a focus on hiking, fishing and photography. He studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Colorado Boulder and now calls Chicago, Illinois home.