The Easiest Way To Help Your Running At Any Level -- Get More Sleep!

10/14/2010 - 12:42

By Carolyn Mather/Running Journal
Through the years I have attempted to share some of my wisdom gained from more than 30 years of running, competing, and coaching. When I started running in 1978 there was not much information available and we certainly did not have the Internet. There is so much information out there today that it can be contradictory and just pure overwhelming. You still have to do what we did back then and find what works best for you and your situation. You are really an experiment of one!

Given the amount of data available, I am going to share what I believe is the easiest way to improve your running at any level, but it may be the most difficult to accomplish. We live in a very busy world filled with many duties, activities, and distractions. It is often very hard to juggle all the balls you have in the air. But I recommend that you attempt to find a way to put this training strategy into effect.

Get more sleep! Yep that is it! Most of us do not even get the minimum recommended by the National Sleep Foundation of seven to nine hours a night. That is for the average person and runners do fall into a different category. Add to that the fact that as we age the architecture of sleep changes and more time is spent in light sleep and less in the deeper and more restful sleep. Most of us are in a continual state of sleep deprivation. This does take a toll on your body in the form of decreased energy, lack of motivation, and ultimately injury of some sort.

By now most of us recognize the necessity of easy runs and recovery days. Even those of us driven to extremes at times know that a little time off can do a great deal to rejuvenate our running and training. But we still neglect getting more sleep.

Most of the top elite runners sleep 12-14 hours a day. Because it is their job they mainly sleep, eat, run, eat, sleep, run, eat, and sleep again with perhaps some weight training or stretching thrown in for good measure. They have learned that lots of sound sleep helps their bodies repair their tissues from their hard training. They do it because they cannot get to the top by neglecting that crucial time when the body repairs and replenishes itself both physically and mentally.

Obviously with a job, children, aging parents, chores, and the other activities of daily living you are probably not going to be able to sleep 12-14 hours out of every 24. But you need to assess where you are on the sleeping continuum and make an attempt to get more. Even increasing your sleep an hour a night can make a huge difference.

Let me tell you how I do it and give you a few helpful hints. Many years ago I learned that to be able to run the mileage I run I had to get more rest. At the time I was raising twin daughters (and was a single mom for a few years), held down a full time job, coached middle school track and cheerleading, cooked, cleaned and all of the other stuff that composes most lives. I was busy! I learned to run to and from work, which eliminated traffic troubles and added a few minutes to my day. Through several different jobs I managed to keep this up.

Then I got rid of the television. Life without television gives you several more hours in most of your days. I must admit at times that I did not have a huge social life but I went to the gym and lifted several times a week. I got up at 5 am every morning to get my run done. And most nights I was going to bed no later than 9 pm. But that was only eight hours of sleep. As I said before I began running to and from work so I was able to sleep until 7 am. I soon found myself in bed between 8 and 8:30pm. Through the years I have found I train and function best with 11 hours of sleep. And I stay uninjured, healthy, and happy, and well rested. Fortunately retiring has certainly made this easier, but to this day I turn off the light at 9 pm and try to make it to 9 am. Then I am ready for 12 hours of continual activity -- running, cooking, cleaning, gardening, coaching, travelling, etc. I must admit I still do not watch television (except for my one soap opera, which is when I do all my stretching, weights, and yoga) and I rarely watch movies. I limit my time on the computer to my e-mail and a few running sites. I read to relax and most evenings you can find me curled up with a good book.

Now I suspect that you will think I am a bit extreme but it works for me and I have a fairly normal life. You can take a look at the ways you can attempt to get more sleep. I suspect if you subtracted an hour from television/computer/cell phone time you would have at least one additional hour to sleep. One hour will make a difference. Studies through the years have actually shown that television watching especially before bedtime can hamper your deep sleep. Try turning off the electronic stuff and let yourself enjoy the peace and beneficial effects of deep sleep for more time than you are getting now.

I guarantee that this is the cheapest and most effective use of your time to make you a better runner. You will have more energy for workouts, you will recover more quickly, and you will avoid those injuries that come from overstressing your mind and body. You do not have to pay a personal trainer, join a gym, or get a coach. You just need to sleep. Give it a try and see how much better life is. Encourage your family to do the same. I do believe that with more sleep we will all be better at whatever we do. Sleep well!

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