When training for a marathon, sleep should be an important part of your schedule. Sleep studies on marathon runners are surprisingly scarce, but one study looking at elite tennis players found those who increased their sleep time to ten hours a night ran faster sprints than usual. So, although everyone’s needs are different, elite athletes should get at least eight to ten hours of sleep a night. Getting enough sleep will lead to faster recovery and therefore faster running.
The Importance Of Sleep During Marathon Training
What the science says
Liverpool John Moores University looked at studies on athletic performance after prolonged periods of being awake and of restricted sleep overnight. Sleep-deprived athletes were found to tire faster, make more mistakes, and make worse decisions. However, physiological markers of endurance performance remained consistent: oxygen demand at various speeds on a treadmill, for example, largely stayed the same after several nights of inadequate sleep. This helps explain how some runners go on to achieve personal bests after not sleeping properly. However, while sleep-deprived bodies can physiologically perform at the same level, they still have to work harder than well-rested ones. That means sleep should still be an important part of your training schedule.
Why your body needs sleep
In particular, the third stage of a typical sleep cycle is essential for healing. It’s when human growth hormone (HGH) is released, which encourages the body to burn fat and build and repair muscle tissue and bones. Low HGH levels inhibit recovery after training, which makes it harder for you to achieve peak performance. When you don’t get enough sleep, your cortisol levels also rise, and this stress hormone inhibits the repair and growth of soft tissue. Sleep deprivation also impairs cognitive abilities and increases appetite, depression, and risk of stroke and diabetes.
Getting a good night’s sleep
It’s important to create a comfortable bedroom to ensure you get a good quality sleep. Aim to create a dark, quiet, cool, and comfortable space. Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine (including meditation, yoga, or reading) can help you fall asleep easier. Make sure you have a good bed frame with proper center support to prevent your mattress from sinking. You may also need to upgrade your mattress. Old mattresses can cause lower back pain and neck crick. There are plenty of different types of mattresses out there and it’s important to choose the right one for you. For example, it’s useful to consider the differences between Puffy vs Saatva mattresses. Puffy offer memory foam mattresses which distribute weight evenly and mold against your body, therefore reducing twisting and turning. Alternatively, Saatva offer coil mattresses, which provide great support, especially for heavier people or those with back issues — although they don’t distribute weight evenly.
Ultimately, sleep should be a priority — just as much as you focus on running. If you need to work on getting more sleep, start by going to bed ten minutes earlier and gradually extending that amount over time. It may be difficult to sacrifice your awake time, but you’ll reap the rewards on race day. You’ll soon notice getting more sleep results in great runs.