The importance of sleep – for runners and other athletes

A lot of recreational runners and other athletes are busy people, jugging work, family time, training and other hobbies, together with their athletic interests, at the same time. So many may not get enough sleep – as it is usually the first thing to be sacrificed in order to fit everything into their busy schedules.

Sleep is important. [Photo credit: Benjamin Miller]

Sleep is important.
[Photo credit: Benjamin Miller]

On an average, a healthy person should preferably get about nine hours of sleep each night. And many professional and elite athletes do regularly get about nine or more hours of sleep per night. For example, tennis player Roger Federer is known to get a massive 12 hours of rest, while the World’s Fastest Man, Usain Bolt gets about 10 hours every night.

Sleep helps to rebuild and repair muscles

Sleep is very important because for athletes, sleep is vital for rebuilding and repairing the muscles which have been damaged by exercise as well as converting stored fats, into fuel. Over time this repair process will make you stronger as an athlete.

For an athlete who does not get sufficient sleep, the body will take longer time to repair itself and so he or she may be feeling more lethargic and is also at a higher risk of injuries. This is because the body may not been able to fully repaired itself before the athlete exerts himself or herself again.

How you know if you have not got enough sleep

You will know quite quickly if you have not got enough sleep at nights – you will feel very tired and lethargic during the daytime. As well, you may fail to recognise the difference between hunger and thirst and as such, end up overeating because you may eat when your body is just thirsty. As well, you may not be able to concentrate on your everyday activities and so, will find yourself struggling to complete work tasks that you usually breeze through.

For example, take a recreational runner, for instance. With lack of sleep, you will also find that your usual exercise sessions to be much harder. For example an easy run – when you are feeling good, would be typically at 6.30 mins/km pace for a 10km run.

Lack of sleep affects athletic performance

But if you are lethargic and lacking sleep though, then 6.30 min/km may be a struggle for you to manage – if you generally base your training on pace.

Lack of sleep hinders your athletic performance. [Photo source:]

Lack of sleep hinders your athletic performance.
[Photo source:]

At the same time, your heart rate will become completely haphazard, if you are basing your running training on your heart rate zones – it may either be extremely high or extremely low, depending on how your body reacts to the sleep deprivation. This can thus be quite dangerous if you continue to exert yourself at the expense of sleep.

As well, besides struggling to run, you will also find yourself cramping much more easily, with insufficient sleep – this is because not sleeping will affect your body’s ability to convert carbohydrates into usable energy which is necessary for running. And without enough glycogen, the body will cramp.

Tips to help you sleep well

So if you want to train well, even as a recreational athlete, then you should try and get enough sleep. This does not just apply to sleeping early the night before a major race – you should try and sleep well, throughout your training as well.

Some tips to help you sleep, may include the following.

Avoid caffeine in the evenings

Avoid taking caffeine after 6pm – this is because taking caffeine stimulates the brain and keeps it awake, thus preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep.

Try to avoid caffeine in the evenings. [Photo source: Jon Sullivan]

Try to avoid caffeine in the evenings.
[Photo source: Jon Sullivan]

While it is true that some people may think that caffeine has no effect on them, take note of this – even though you may be able to fall asleep, taking caffeine so late, may prevent you from falling into a deep sleep. As such you may wake up feeling lethargic and groggy than you would otherwise.

Do not look at your electronic devices before bedtime

Do not spend long hours on electronic devices – such as your mobile phone or television just before bedtime – as this will also stimulate the brain and cause it to be hyped up.

Instead, if you have to do something before bedtime, why not switch off your computer and mobile phone or turn it to silent mode – and curl up instead, with a good book of your choice?

Avoid exercise just before bedtime

Exercising just before bedtime is also a no-no. This is because exercise generates adrenaline which stimulates the body and keeps it awake. This will also affect your ability to sleep during the night – and as such, you’ll find yourself tossing and turning a lot instead – and the cycle of sleep deprivation will continue.

Any exercise that’s done in the evening, should preferably be completed several hours before your usual bedtime – so that the body has had sufficient time to cool down completely and the adrenaline levels are able to subside back to rest levels.

Take power naps of 10 to 15 minutes

Take 10 to 15 minute power naps in the daytime, if you find you didn’t sleep well on a particular night. These will be sufficient to help your body to recharge and you will find yourself more energetic and ready to go, when you wake up from the nap.

However if you nap for any longer though, you will find yourself feeling groggy and may not be able to sleep well at nights – and thus the cycle will continue.

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