Sweet Dreams Make Better Miles

Sleep Impacts Training

For the better part of last week I felt like I was running with cement blocks for shoes. My lungs felt flat, my arms were dead weight. And then I slept for 8.5 hours on Thursday night. Friday I expected another struggle, but my legs were light and I could breath again! I changed nothing except for the amount of sleep I got. In fact the night before I'd gone to a fashion show in West Seattle, eaten sliders, cake and had two glasses of wine. So I certainly wasn't fueled up on anything special.

How Sleep Impacts You and Your Running

As you sleep you go through sleep cycles lasting between 90 and 110 minutes. Each cycle is made up of 4 stages of sleep and REM.
Stage 1 is light, you are easily woken.
Stage 2 is deeper, eye movement stops and brain waves are slower. Stage 3 and 4
Stage 3 and 4 are deepest (characterized by delta brain waves). This is when your body heals itself. The human growth hormone is released from the pituitary gland. This hormone (HGH) repairs muscles, bones and activates your body's ability to use fat for fuel. If you don't reach these deep levels of sleep you aren't recovering appropriately from workouts, and can't build your endurance and cardiovascular levels optimally.
REM is the fun time! Dreaming time. Your eyes move rapidly, breathing is fast and shallow, your muscles are temporarily paralyzed, and your brain levels are the same as waking levels. While it doesn't sound too restful, REM is essential to memory and learning. "During REM sleep, your brain consolidates and processes the information you’ve learned during the day, forms neural connections that strengthen memory, and replenishes its supply of neurotransmitters, including feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine that boost your mood during the day." (Source:Sleep Guide)

Every stage is important to your day and your training. You should go through about 5 sleep cycles a night. Stages 3, 4, and REM will increase in length as you sleep. To complete 5 cycles you need at least 8 hours. Cutting sleep short by even an hour can affect performance. As a runner, and especially if you are training for a race, don't cheat your progress by skimping on sleep.

Tips for Maximizing Sleep

  • Stay out of sleep debt, and aim for 8 hours a night. Schedule your sleep time and make it a priority.
  • Get into a routine, wind down at the end of the day, and prepare your mind to relax and drift to sleep. I have to read every night, even if it's half a page. It's been part of my sleep routine for the majority of my life.
  • Use the 90 minute cycle to your advantage. Set your alarm in multiples of 90. If you go to bed at 10pm, set the alarm for 5:30am (not 6:00am).
  • Melatonin, seriously this little herbal remedy helps me nod off even when I feel like it's going to be impossible.
To read more about sleep and how it affects your day and training check out these articles:
Running Times: Sleep Your Way to a PR
Runner's World: Chasing Zzzzs
Help Guide: How Much Sleep Do You Need?
BBC: Sleep Science, a compilation of many sleep related articles plus a game to test how rested you are!

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