How Sleep Can Make You A Better Runner

Take a look at how sleep can increase your productivity as a runner and make you stronger and faster.

No matter how tempting it is to stay up late at night binge-watching shows or scrolling through social media on your phone, it is crucial to get proper sleep. A good night’s sleep helps you function better the next day. Also, it helps keep your health in check and your mind fresh. But why is it so vital for runners specifically? 

The science is clear: sleep is directly proportional to better performance. When you work out or go for a run, your muscles experience micro damage to the tissues including muscle protein breakdown. Sleep releases hormones that aid in muscle protein synthesis, thus repairing the cellular level damage from exercise.

Sleep allows the body to recover. Because of this, athletes tend to need more sleep than the general population. Most runners require 7-9 hours of sleep per night, possibly closer to 8-10 hours during intense training blocks.*  Inadequate sleep can impact the immune system and increase your risk of getting sick. If you’re consistently getting only a few hours of sleep, you’re going to feel it; before you know it, your body will force you to rest when you’re not expecting it. Isn’t it better to get good sleep and train than not do so, fall sick, and then be finally forced to rest?

Let’s take a look at how sleep can increase your productivity as a runner and make you stronger and faster.

Sleep releases growth hormones

When you hit the sack after a long day of strenuous exercise, your body finally gets to rest. During that sleep, your body releases growth hormones that help repair cellular and tissue damage, invigorate muscle growth, and stimulate bone building. This makes you better prepared for working out the next day. Over time, you adapt to your training better when you sleep well since your body has an adequate opportunity to recover from training. 

Sleep allows your heart to rest

For any runner, it is important to maintain cardiovascular health. Sleeping at night helps ensure blood is circulated to all parts of the body. When you’re in deep sleep, your heart rate and breathing continue to change which promotes cardiovascular health. Also, adequate sleep duration is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, asthma, COPD, and metabolic diseases.*

Sleep can strengthen the immune system 

Insufficient sleep impacts our immune function and increases the risk of infection. A study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports shows that runners who sleep seven or more hours per night are less susceptible to illness. During sleep, the body produces cytokines–hormones that help build immunity and combat infections. These cytokines build a shield around the body to reduce the risk of getting sick. Reducing the risk of illness allows you to train more consistently, which in turn can make you a faster runner. Stronger the immune system, the higher the runner’s performance may be.

Sleep may help increase speed

A good night’s sleep may help fight fatigue, making one more alert and charged for a run. A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that even one night of severe sleep deprivation may cause individuals to fatigue sooner on hard efforts. The sooner an individual fatigues, the slower the run may be. 

Sleep may improve endurance

According to a review published in Current Sports Medicine Reports, inadequate sleep can impair your endurance. Whether you are running a 5K or a marathon, running is an endurance sport – so you want your endurance to be as high as possible. Athletes who sleep less tend to have lower glycogen stores, which means they are unable to produce as much energy in long-distance training runs or races. 

Tips for developing good sleep habits

  • Establish a sleep schedule: Routines can make every part of life easier, including sleep. If you go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time each day, your body will likely establish a set circadian rhythm. You will have an easier time falling asleep at night and less wakings during the night, both of which promote quality sleep. 
  • Eliminate caffeine later in the day: Caffeine is a stimulant – it makes you more alert. Alertness is exactly what you want at your morning meeting, but not what you want when you are trying to fall asleep at night. Caffeine lingers in your system for several hours after consumption, so you may want to avoid consuming caffeine anytime in the afternoon or evening. 
  • Eat sleep-inducing foods: According to a review published in Nutrients, certain foods can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep throughout the night. Carbohydrates, tryptophan-rich protein (such as milk, cheese, poultry, pumpkin seeds, and beans), tart cherries, and magnesium-rich foods all promote better sleep quality. 
  • Reduce blue light one hour before bed. Research shows that blue light – such as that from your smartphone – can disrupt circadian rhythms. You can use blue-light-blocking glasses; however, the most effective method is to turn off all devices for approximately one hour before bedtime. 
  • Use a white noise machine. White noise is not just for infants! While the research is mixed, many people report that light white noise helps them fall asleep. 

Sleep is crucial for both physical and mental health. There is no substitute for a good night’s sleep. It can reduce the risk of illness, strengthen the immune system, put you in a good mood, increase your ability to interpret and react to situations, and support and promote your overall athletic performance.

Please note: This blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.