Happy Christmas Eve everyone! I’m been awake for almost all of it 🙂 The past few nights I’ve had crap sleep, and I mentioned I had done some research and would share my findings.
Last night was one of the worst nights sleep I’ve had in a long time. I went to bed at like 9:30 as I was tired from not sleeping the night before 🙂 Fell asleep around 10:30 and woke up promptly at 12:30am and didn’t go back to sleep until 6:30. I tried and tried and tried, but I just couldn’t shut my brain off (thinking about the Chevron Houston Marathon, my training, my poor sick wife who has strep still, etc). So, I tossed and turned until 6:30, slept for an hour and then promptly got up for a track workout. (More on that incredible run tomorrow!)
Sleep is so important, especially when running as that is when your body repairs itself, heals and adapts to your training. It also keeps our immune system strong and our bodies healthy, alert and productive.
Many of you reached out and said you had the same problem during the height of your training cycle, after a really hard workout or a race. So, without further ado, here is what I’ve found out!
Why can’t I sleep after a hard run, race or during peak marathon training?
- Post-run adrenoceptors in your body can have the same effect as caffeine in keeping you awake. It has been suggested that doing long runs early in the day can lessen this effect. Hard running can also increase the stress hormone cortisol, giving you that anxious feeling which makes it difficult to sleep, so save speedwork for mornings rather than late in the evening. If you must run in the evening, try to schedule your run so you finish at least 3 hours before going to bed.
- If you’ve taken caffeine on during a run, this can stay in your system for up to 14 hours. A good tip is to avoid any caffeine after midday to prevent this affecting your sleep.
- Your mind may be working overtime thinking about the run, especially if it went especially well or badly. This can be linked to anxiety, which raises our cortisol levels and prevents us sleeping.
- Aches and pains and sometimes restless leg syndrome can play a part in causing discomfort and hence disturbing sleep.
- Dehydration after particularly long runs can lead to insomnia and an increased heart rate as cortisol levels flood your body. Staying well hydrated can blunt this response. Rehydrate sensibly during and after running, but try to avoid taking on fluids two hours before bedtime as a full bladder will also interfere with sleep.
- Low blood sugar can lead to a lack of deep, consistent sleep. When your blood sugar drops below a certain level, cortisol is released and a surge in adrenaline forces you to wake up. Low blood sugar levels will keep your body in a catabolic state throughout the night, instead of the anabolic process that is critical to repairing muscle damage incurred through training. Typically if I’ve had a long run, I tend to consume most calories in the days afterwards. Whilst we tend to focus on protein replenishment, carbs are especially useful to replace, and will help you sleep. It is generally advised not to eat too much before going to bed, as then digestive processes will interfere with natural sleep patterns. Bananas are a good evening snack because they contain chemicals to help with the natural onset of sleep. Cottage cheese or another easily digestible protein (such as a protein shake) may also be helpful in regulating blood sugar levels.
- For those who run later in the day, your core temperature may still be too high. A trick to reduce this quickly is to take a warm bath an hour or so before bed, to encourage your temperature to drop afterwards to induce sleepiness.
- Deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals, such as iron, zinc and magnesium, can also play a part in sleep disturbance. Speak to your GP about some simple blood tests which can check these.
If you have suffered through a sleepless night or a night of tossing and turning after an already-exhausting endurance event, here are some recommendations for getting more and better sleep next time:
- Maximize your fitness: As with many aspects of performance, fitness solves most problems. The more fit you are, the better you will cope with the acute stress from a workout or event. Essentially, your fitness gives you greater ability to absorb the stress before it impacts your sleep.
- Minimize lifestyle stress: “Let it go, let it go…” Seriously, the stress you’re carrying from your job or your busted car or your visiting in-laws just pours more cortisol on the fire and heightens the sensitivity to excitatory hormones like epinephrine (until a chronic overload of these hormones subsequently reduces your sensitivity to them).
- Ease up on the stimulants: Remember, caffeine doesn’t actually give you any additional energy. It primarily helps with focus and awareness, and in that regard consuming more doesn’t necessarily lead to greater benefit. In long events, caffeinated products are not likely to help you all day. A better strategy for endurance events is to consume caffeine before a portion of the race where you actually need it.
- Proactively cool down: Many athletes have gotten the message about post-workout or post-event rehydration and fuel replenishment. But proactively bringing your body temperature down is also important. Effective methods include wrapping yourself in wet towels, dousing clothing with cold water, ice packs, cool water immersion (not necessarily ice baths), cool showers, and hanging out in an air-conditioned environment.
- Cool your sleeping environment: Both core and skin temperatures decline when you fall asleep, and a cool sleeping environment helps create a temperature gradient that facilitates this process. Everyone is a bit different, but optimal room temperatures for promoting restful sleep are typically in the 60-70 degree Fahrenheit range
This article is not intended to provide any medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional if you are experiencing regular insomnia, or are worried about any other sleep-related issues.
I’ll post more on Christmas Eve, today’s training and guess what… our wedding pictures tomorrow!!!!!!
I hope your Christmas Eve is magical!
What are some of your Christmas Eve traditions? Comment below and I’ll share a few!