What Role Does Sleep Play in Running Performance?
Sleep is essential for your overall health and wellness. It contributes to physical, emotional, and cognitive development. Also, it is hugely responsible for your quality of life.
Physical benefits of sleep
Sleep plays a vital role in your physical well-being:
1. It aids in tissue and cell repair while allowing your heart to reach a restful state and focus on only delivering the necessary ingredients via blood flow for the body’s rejuvenation and recovery. This restful state of the heart also results in improved cardiovascular health.
2. During sleep, the body’s immune system releases hormones that fight infections. This prevents you from falling sick. Also, if you are already ill, you may recover faster if you sleep well.
How does sleep affect your mental health?
Here is how sleep can boost your mental wellness:
1. When you have learned a new skill and are off to bed, memories are formed. So, when you are asleep, this new skill is progressively made autonomic through pathways that make it a memory.
2. Sleep helps in ensuring that there is no cognitive decline, which may affect your decision-making capability.
What is the ideal sleep duration?
The general recommendation of sleep for inactive individuals is about seven to nine hours. As per research, there is a significant impact of sleep on running performance. Athletes need more sleep to recover from their workouts. The suitable time frame for them is anywhere between nine to 10 hours. This period extends to 12 hours for elite athletes, who train for four-six hours a day. Poor quality and insufficient quantity of sleep affect athletic performance.
When athletes train, their bodies go through a cycle of physical stress, and they develop fatigue. They overcome these challenges through recovery. The key aspects of recovery are quality and quantity of sleep.
Current research highlights the importance of sleep for runners and other sports athletes. It emphasizes that:
1. Endurance performance was affected in a study on 11 men, who performed a 30-minute treadmill test after sleep deprivation. The distance covered was less, indicating a negative performance outcome.
2. One night of sleep loss reduced the time to exhaustion in volleyball players; so, their capability to do an exercise for a longer period declined.
3. A decrease of 4% in a 3km-time trial was observed in cyclists, who were allowed less sleep for one night after a heavy workout the previous day.
4. Sports athletes from the male team, who performed a 30-minute graded test on a treadmill, followed by a 50-minute intermittent sprint workout, saw lower sprint times and glycogen (carbohydrate) concentration, when they were not allowed adequate sleep.
5. In eight men, the maximum amount of load that they could lift in bench press, deadlift, and leg press exercises decreased because they were allowed to sleep only for three hours on three consecutive nights.
6. When male basketball players were allowed two hours of additional sleep on five consecutive nights, their free-throw accuracy improved by 9%.
7. Similarly, collegiate tennis players, when allowed 1.6 hours of sleep extension, showed a 36% increase in serving accuracy.
Together these findings show that sleep restriction or deprivation can result in poor performance.
Recommended hours of sleep per day for different age groups:
How can athletes sleep better?
If you are into athletics and are looking for ideas to improve your sleeping habits, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Maintain a dark, cool, and quiet space for sleep. It is because the environment can play an important role to help you sleep well
2. Take a warm shower before bedtime
3. Regulate your sleeping and waking hours by maintaining the same time for going to bed and waking up
4. Get off the bed and sit down to read something or meditate if you cannot fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes
5. Avoid watching TV or using electronic devices before going to bed. It is recommended to switch off all screens and devices an hour prior to bedtime, as the blue light emitted from screens can interfere with your circadian rhythm.
6. Do not consume caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine-containing products before bedtime
7. Refrain from drinking too many fluids too close to bedtime, as this may result in unscheduled visits to the washroom
8. Do not take a long nap during the day. Restrict the duration to less than 30 minutes. However, sometimes longer naps can help you make up for lost sleep.
9. Do not over-train or exercise just before bedtime, as it can hamper your sleep quality
By now, you may have understood why sleep is so important for runners. Performance impairment due to poor sleep leads to incomplete physiological recovery and increased perceived effort when training or in competition. Monitor the quality and quantity of sleep by maintaining a diary or with the help of technology.
Lack of sleep can increase the risk of injury or illness, which can affect your health. Prioritize your training, travel, and work-life balance with effective time management skills. Use the guidelines for sleep hygiene to manage your sleep quality and quantity.
1. Bird SP. Sleep, recovery, and athletic performance: a brief review and recommendations. Strength Cond J 2013; 35: 43-7.
2. Marshall G, Turner A. The importance of sleep for athletic performance. Strength Cond J 2016; 38: 61-7.
3. Watson AM. Sleep and athletic performance. Curr Sports Med Rep 2017; 16: 413-8.
4. Hirshkowitz M, Whiton K, Albert SM, et al. National Sleep Foundation’s updated sleep duration recommendations: final report. Sleep Health 2015; 1: 233-43.
5. Reilly T, Piercy M. The effect of partial sleep deprivation on weight-lifting performance. Ergonomics 1994; 37: 107-15.