Enjoy this guest blog by Tuft’s student Katie Felser…
Runners: It’s your long run day. You have taken great pains to plan it. You have eaten a specific meal the night before, being sure to include the right balance of carbs to fuel your body. You know exactly how far to go and how fast you should accomplish it. Packed in your pocket are several snacks for easy, on-the-run refueling. Yet even with all this preparation, you find yourself unexpectedly fatigued and unable to push yourself as hard as desired.
So, what’s the deal? It could be your sleep! Have you included sleep time as an essential element of your perfect training plan?
Sleep and Athletic Performance
Sleep is important for health. You have undoubtedly seen the studies about lack of sleep being associated with increased body fat and decreased memory formation. Trying to go for a run after a week lacking in sleep is certainly difficult. But is this increased difficulty physiologically based? Is your body truly less able to perform, or is it simply a time for mind over matter?
In truth, it’s a little of both.
Your body can push through the increased fatigue to an extent, but decreased sleep quality and quantity will decrease your muscles’ limit for exertion and increase how quickly they fatigue. In other words, not only will you get more tired more quickly, your muscles just aren’t capable of performing at their usual intensity.
In addition, a lack of sleep makes it more difficult to build up glycogen stores in your muscles. Glycogen is a source of energy for your muscles. Fewer stores mean less fuel. Less fuel means you’ll get that low blood sugar feeling more quickly.
But it’s not all about the muscles. A lack of sleep can put you in a bad mood. Athletes with sleep deprivation have been shown to have increased perception of effort and fatigue and a general bad mood, a mindset that limits top performance.
So, the combination of increased muscle fatigue, decreased fuel storage, and increased perceived effort sets you up for a not so successful long-run.
Sleep and Your Training Schedule
Your typical training schedule may not include a prescription for adequate sleep, but it should. Otherwise, the other steps you take to get your body running its best won’t matter. Think of sleep as your body’s oil. Without enough of it, your body will run, but it won’t run as fast, or as far.
Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep
Here are a few to help you incorporate adequate sleep into your training regimen:
– Set a schedule – your body likes routine, especially when it comes to sleep. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on the weekend (as tempting as it may be to indulge in sleeping in on a Saturday morning).
– Have a ritual – following a bedtime routine helps tell your body it’s time for bed. These activities that you perform each night calm your body down, readying it for some good sleep. A bedtime routine may include drinking a cup of sleepytime tea while you read a calming book.
– Keep the screens out – it’s difficult to disconnect in our technology driven world. However, screen time right before bed not only makes it more difficult to fall asleep, it makes your sleep less restful. Be sure you’re getting the most of your z’s by making your bedroom a no screen zone.
Guest blogger Katie Fesler is a graduate student at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. After years of putting sleep on the bottom of the priority list, she’s realizing that after a full night sleep she feels better, works faster, and trains harder.