Why You Need to Pay More Attention to Sleep When Race Training

It’s marathon season, everyone! These days, my news feed is overflowing with articles full of race tips and inspiration. But there’s one key point sorely missing.

One of the easiest pitfalls of training season is the tendency to focus on the daily training while neglecting the importance of nightly training: sleep. Training is a two-fold process: muscle breakdown and recovery. Most of our muscle recovery takes place while we sleep.

Who sleeps enough these days?

A study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology revealed that we are a sleep-deprived society. The average American sleeps 6.8 hours per night as opposed to 9 hours a century ago. That means around 30% of adults admitted to sleeping less than six hours per night!

I get it, there’s a lot to get done. We have to work. We have to train. We have to take care of the kids! There are a hundred reasons to put off sleep when our schedules are so busy, but there are plenty more to make sleep a priority. And even though many of our peers are sleeping less, we need to break the mold and take this vital part of living much more seriously.

Check the Studies

1. A lack of sleep will decrease your energy.

You’re probably already aware of this well-known fact just from experience, but it never hurts to know the science behind why a lack of sleep will decrease your energy.

Eve Van Cauter, Ph.D., from the University of Chicago Medical School, conducted a study in which men slept eight hours per night for three nights, four hours per night for six nights, and 12 hours a night for the next seven. The results showed that during their deprived nights of sleep, they were less capable of metabolizing glucose.

What does this gibberish mean? Well, glucose is the main source of energy for athletes. Your body uses glycogen (stored glucose) as fuel when working out and during endurance events. If you are unable to store this, then you’ll have less fuel. The last thing you want in your race is to start strong and run out of gas too early!

Image by kygp (via Flickr)

2. A lack of sleep will decrease muscle recovery.

The other thing that this study revealed was that cortisol levels are heightened with a lack of sleep. Cortisol is a stress hormone. It has been linked to depression, mental illness, and lower life expectancy. Higher levels of cortisol can also dramatically decrease muscle repair and recovery.

It may be possible that in the busyness of training, you can forget to rest and keep yourself in a prolonged state of stress. This is the opposite of healthy and will definitely hinder your performance in a race.

If you want a speedy recovery while training for your race, be sure to get plenty of sleep so that your body can recover properly!

How Long Should I Sleep?

Well, the research shows that 7-8 hours for an adult is optimal. This should be done with little distractions like noise and light in the room. It is also recommended that you don’t occupy the mind with television or bright technology within an hour of sleeping. So if you’re really dedicated to a good recovery, no more catching up with “The Walking Dead” or “True Detective” just before bed!

With this newfound appreciation, you should be ready to train hard by day, and sleep hard by night. Good luck!

References: Sleep Deprivation and AthletesSleeping and MetabolismCortisol: Why the stress hormone…4 Ways to get better sleep

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Luke Andrus is a certified personal trainer, ACE health coach, writer, folk music drummer, husband, and a father. Most of his writing experience is in poetry and fictional short stories, and he also proposed to his wife with a self-published children's book. He is a Narnia nerd with a degree in History, a minor in English, and a semi-obsession with the French language. He believes that fitness is not just about vanity, but about lifestyle, integrity, and the ability to take control of your life.