Sleep Training

Make Sleep a part of your daily training

When you’re juggling a schedule that’s jam-packed with work and social commitments, a good-night’s rest is often the first thing to get sacrificed. But sleep is prime time for recovery, especially when you’re training for a race. What’s more, it’s tough to get up for that early-morning workout if you’ve been burning the midnight oil. Here’s why you need to sleep well, and how to do it.

SLEEP HELPS: 

FEND OFF MINDLESS EATING. 

Studies have shown that people who are sleep deprived tend to eat more and crave more carbs than those who are well rested. A study published in the November 2015 issue of American Journal of Health Promotion, found that short sleep is associated with more time spent in secondary eating and drinking, which is eating or drinking beverages other than water while doing other activities, like watching TV. This kind of distracted eating, which is very easy to do in our media-saturated days, may elevate risk for obesity, researchers concluded. 

PREVENT COUGHS AND COLDS. 

In a study published in the January 2017 issue of Sleep, researchers found that individuals who got less than seven hours of sleep per night had a depressed immune systems, compared to those who got a good night’s sleep. While you can run through coughs, sniffles, and sneezes—getting some exercise might even make you feel better—it can be tough to offer your best effort when your body is busy fighting off germs.

HOW TO SLEEP WELL:

GO FOR EIGHT. 

Aim for eight hours of sleep each night, and get more any chance that you can. There’s nothing more restorative than an afternoon nap on a day when you’ve been running long. Try to be as consistent as possible with your sleep habits, and go to bed at the same time each evening, both during the week and the weekends.

SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS. 

Set a sleep alarm to remind you to get to bed on time. And keep your bed free of distractions. Resist the urge to work in bed. Turn off your phone, computer, and other devices at least 20 minutes before bedtime, as their light can suppress your internal levels of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep and wake cycles. Keep the room dark and set the temperature to something that feels cozy. Use ambient sounds, relaxing music, or a fan if you need to to drown out any noise that could keep you awake.

FOCUS ON QUALITY. 

What qualifies as a good night’s sleep? The National Sleep Foundation says that it means falling asleep in 30 minutes or less, waking up no more than once per night, being awake for 20 minutes or less after initially falling asleep, and spending at least 85 percent of the time that you’re in bed, sleeping.

EAT APPROPRIATELY.

One thing that could be preventing you from sleeping is what you choose to snack on before bed. A nibble on some dark chocolate might seem like a healthy, satisfying midnight snack, but it actually contains a pretty hefty amount of caffeine. Instead, choose foods like oatmeal, tart cherries, almonds, and cheese to get your body ready to fall asleep and stay asleep. Check out our recipe for Baked Oatmeal with Cherries, jam packed with ingredients to help you catch those critical Z's.

About Jen Van Allen

Jen has spent the past six years working as Special Projects Editor for Runner's World magazine, and writing stories for the magazine. She also has a book, The Runner's World Training Journal for Beginners, and contributes stories to The Portland Press Herald.