You need more sleep. You don’t get enough sleep. You should go to bed earlier. “How are you functioning with such little sleep?”
It probably sounds like something you have heard so much and so often that you tune it out now. It is probably one of those things that you know you need to make happen, know you need to put more effort into, and more than that, something else you need to find the time for. More time to sleep. Sounds like a dream (no pun intended). And at the same time, sounds like a total waste of time.
I’m not the best one to talk about sleep, in that I’m not the best example. But I’ve been working on it. A lot. And if nothing else, I’ve become increasingly more educated in it and am one of those types of people who like to arm myself with the knowledge of the why, not just do something because someone tells me I should.
There are lots of posts and articles out there on why sleep is good for you: improves your brain function, helps you concentrate, improves your mood and patience levels, makes you less irritable and helps reduce weight gain.
But here’s the thing: from a runner’s perspective, we need it for another reason. And it’s all about recovery.
While you sleep your body is doing anything but resting. It performs a large selection of repair and recovery tasks, including rebuilding broken down muscle, replenishing glycogen stores in depleted body systems and boosting brain function and mental stamina. It promotes recovery of soreness or injuries and of course improves energy levels and resets you for a new day of challenges and challenging runs.
But really, there is lots of information on that too, and we often just don’t always listen to it – I’m totally guilty. Where there is a lack of information is in telling you why it may be hard for you to get enough (other than the obvious that you go to bed too late). And if that’s where you are, here’s what might be inhibiting your sleep and what you need to know:
- You don’t have a bedtime routine – There’s a reason little kids put up a fuss before bed when they don’t go through their usual routine, or get their usual story before sleep time – their bodies and minds are used to the routine and this puts them in the mindset for sleep and allows them to easily get to sleep. As adults, we’re exactly the same: a bedtime routine helps you prepare your body and mind for sleep, slow down your brain and let your body know that it is time to settle down for the night. Failure to do this will leave your mind racing, and not give your body enough time to release crucial sleep hormones.
- Your room is full of technology – From the TV to your laptop, the phone charging beside your bed and your iPad on your night table, for most people, there’s no shortage of technology in the bedroom. This disrupts our light not only because of the light they emit, but also because for most of us, the last thing we look at is a bright screen and a series of thought-provoking images and words. Make it a point to end time with technology at least 30 minutes before sleep and spend that half hour calming your mind with meditation, yoga, or a novel. If possible, also eliminate the number of tech items you keep in your room all night and leave them charging outside your room.
- You eat just before bed – Eating just before bed wakes up all your body systems and tells them to get ready to go. You start your digestive system, the liver and kidneys are activated for cleaning and filtration and depending on what you eat, you may even spike your blood sugar. To the body, all of this amounts to it assuming you need energy for something (after all, you just fed it the energy), and it gets all revved up. In reality, you want the opposite and want it to settle down and go to sleep. If possible, avoid activating your body like this too close to sleep time.
- Your room isn’t just for sleeping – For a lot of us, our room is where we study and do school work, hang out with friends, watch TV, and talk on the phone. In other words, it is not a place that is solely associated with sleep. Try to minimize the number of activities you do in your room and reserve it just for sleep time. Eventually, the body will associate your room and bed with sleep (not doing homework and watching movies), and you will have an easier time getting to sleep when you are in there.
- You change your sleep schedule often – Whether you’re working different shifts, going out a lot in the evenings, or just staying up late and sleeping in on your days off, it’s hard to get a good sleep when you are constantly changing your sleep schedule. Believe it or not, your body can create it’s own schedule (your circadian rhythm), which will tell you when it is time to go to sleep and automatically wake you up at the right time. But it needs to be a regular schedule that doesn’t deviate very often and that you stick to. The best part of it? You’ll probably feel less tired because of it, because your body is choosing its sleep schedule!