Both empirical and scientific evidence shows that the more physically active you are, the more sleep you need. As such, runners sleep requirements are higher than those for an average person.
- Anyone preparing for a race needs more than 8 hours of quality sleep each night.
- Runners can lower their risk of injury by getting more than 7 hours of sleep each night.
- Apart from physical impacts, sleep deprivation before a race can affect an athlete’s motivation to complete the race.
Sleep – the essential function to sustain life – does more than keeping you refreshed. It is essential to growth, memory consolidation, brain waste removal, immune regulation, cognition, attention, and optimal psychological state.
Sleep deprivation can increase the risk of numerous health conditions, such as1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5449130/:
- Increased stress response
- Headaches and stomach pain
- Mood disorders
- Impaired performance
- Memory problems
- Poor psychosocial functioning
- Increased risk of chronic health conditions and death
Sleep Recommendations for Runner: What Does Science Say?
Any running race demands a unique combination of strength and endurance. Though the name has “race” in it, it is not just about running; it also requires a participant to overcome many mental and physical barriers before reaching the finish line. Understandably, anyone preparing for an event must have cardiovascular/muscular endurance.
It is widely accepted that runners need longer hours of sleep than an average person. But, what does science say about it? Let’s learn here.
Also Read: How Many Hours of Sleep Do Teens Need?
The adverse effects of sleep loss may be more profound in endurance sports than in events requiring short bursts of energy, such as jumping.
Thus, this article focuses on scientific studies assessing the impact of sleep on endurance athletes.
Runners Need At Least 8 Hours of Sleep Each Night
There is no one-size-fits-all sleep recommendation for runners. That said, endurance athletes need more than 8 hours of sleep each night to perform at their best.
Researchers from Australia and Singapore investigated how sleep extension and sleep restriction affected the performance of endurance runners/triathletes.
They found that participants – after three consecutive nights of sleep extension (by 30%) – were able to maintain their performance. But, on the other hand, those getting 30% lower sleep than usual were slower, especially on the second and fourth days.
Most importantly, the researchers concluded that sleeping more than 8 hours per day might be best for optimal endurance performance.2https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/12000/Extended_Sleep_Maintains_Endurance_Performance.12.aspx Moreover, they recommend that athletes should avoid restricted sleep on two or more nights in a row.
Sleeping Less Than 7 Hours/Day Significantly Increases A New Injury Risk
Studies have repeatedly shown that short sleep might increase injury risk. Nonetheless, only a few of them have evaluated such impacts in endurance athletes.
One such study, published in 2020, involved 95 athletes from running, triathlon, swimming, cycling, and rowing disciplines. Over a period of 52 weeks, the participants submitted data about their health complaints, sleep quantity, training load, and new injury episodes.
At the end of the investigation, the researchers found that less than 7 hours of sleep a day for 2 weeks increased the risk of new injury by 50%.
The good news is runners can lower their risk of new injury by getting more than 7 hours of sleep per day.
A Single Night of Sleep Deprivation Decreases Endurance Performance
This alarming finding came from a team of researchers at Bangor University. They compared treadmill endurance performance in two conditions separated by a week.
First, participants performed a one-hour (treadmill run and self-paced) test after normal sleep. Then, after 7 days, the same participants performed the same test but after 30 hours without sleep.
Following sleep deprivation, the participants ran less, indicating a decrease in performance. However, the researchers failed to find any significant effect of sleep deprivation on pacing and perception of effort.
Sleep Hygiene Tips for Runners
Quality sleep is vital for all, regardless of their level of activity. However, those engaging in strenuous activity typically need longer hours of sleep.
If you or anyone you love is planning to participate in a running event, consider the following tips:
- Create an environment that promotes sleep. Make sure the place you sleep in is quiet, dark, and cool.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine later in the day. These beverages stimulate your brain activity, making it hard for you to fall or stay asleep.
- Keep your electronics away in the hours before bedtime. Beat your temptation to stay glued to TVs, cell phones, and computers. These devices emit blue light that can impair your normal sleep/wake cycle (circadian rhythm).
- Wind down. Replace your screen time with activities such as reading, taking a bath, or meditating. These activities are known to help you relax and promote sleep.
- Don’t force yourself to fall asleep. This is one of the most typical things people tend to do when they cannot fall asleep. Don’t think much; just get out of bed if you fail to slumber after 20 minutes of trying. Alternatively, do a relaxing activity, such as listening to a song, reading your favorite book, or stretching. Find what works for you.
Overtraining and competition-related stress often cause runners to have sleep problems. Thus, avoid overtraining and find a way to tame wandering thoughts about the upcoming event. Remember, poor sleep is associated with increased risk of illness in overtrained endurance athletes.
It is also best to avoid exercising right before your bedtime. Besides, napping can be a valuable tool to erase your sleep debt. However, make sure you don’t nap for longer than 30 minutes a day.
- Medic, Goran et al. “Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption.” Nature and science of sleep vol. 9 151-161. 19 May. 2017, doi:10.2147/NSS.S134864.
- ROBERTS, SPENCER S. H.1; TEO, WEI-PENG1,2; AISBETT, BRAD1; WARMINGTON, STUART A.1 Extended Sleep Maintains Endurance Performance Better than Normal or Restricted Sleep, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: December 2019 – Volume 51 – Issue 12 – p 2516-2523 doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002071.
- Johnston, R et al. “General health complaints and sleep associated with new injury within an endurance sporting population: A prospective study.” Journal of science and medicine in sport vol. 23,3 (2020): 252-257. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2019.10.013.
- Oliver, Samuel J et al. “One night of sleep deprivation decreases treadmill endurance performance.” European journal of applied physiology vol. 107,2 (2009): 155-61. doi:10.1007/s00421-009-1103-9.
- Hausswirth, Christophe et al. “Evidence of disturbed sleep and increased illness in overreached endurance athletes.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise vol. 46,5 (2014): 1036-45. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000177.