Guest Post – Sleep: Performance, Recovery, and How to Get More

July 7, 2016

I’ve got a guest post from a good friend of mine for you guys today about sleep! Nate and I worked at a summer camp in Minnesota, and I remember we would often be up early training before a long day of counseling the kids at the camp. This probably meant we weren’t getting enough sleep though, huh? But we were young college kids back then, so it didn’t matter as much, right?

Anyway, Nate wrote an awesome guest post on the importance of sleep and how to improve your sleep–something I am still struggling with. While Cullen is now sleeping through the night (hallelujah!), the round-the-clock daylight here in Alaska makes it difficult to wind-down at night and sleep enough when it is light nearly all night.

I hope you enjoy the guest post, and I am going to be back in a few days with a post about all of the adventures we’ve been up to these past few days.

IMG_3328While in Minnesota, Cullen and I had a chance to visit Nate and his son, Calvin.

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Hello esteemed readers of “The Runner’s Plate.” Michelle has graciously allowed me to write a guest post on her blog, and has traded the favor over at Twin Cities Runner – Coaching. I’m honored to be posting on a blog about two of my favorite things—sleeping and running.

While a wholesome diet is key to running your best and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, sleep is often overlooked.

Sleep is an integral part of performance in any athletic endeavor—especially during phases of tough training. Sam Olson, Doctorate of Physical Therapy, who, among other things, specializes in running injuries and athletic medicine, says,

Sleep is very important, in many ways… sleep is the time where the body’s repair processes work hard to “clean up” damaged tissues… It is also the time when growth hormones are released, which are necessary for rebuilding strong and healthy tissues… Getting inadequate sleep can lead to decreased energy levels and increased effort for the same output, as well as elevated heart rate, and mental fatigue.”

Former Olympian Carrie Tollefson echoes these sentiments. “Sleep is key!” she says. “[While competing], I usually slept from 10:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and tried to have a nap in the afternoon. I always noticed if I didn’t get to rest after a really hard session.”

What happens when you have sleep difficulties? How do you get back into a routine. Both Tollefson and Olson agree that maintaining a regular bedtime and wake time, though external factors can sometimes interfere. “When I was racing and not a mom, I would just reorganize my life to make sleep happen,” says Tollefson, “but with kids, we are sort of at their mercy.”

Also, it’s important to avoid things that can disturb sleep. Blue light emitted from electronic devices such as phones, laptops, and tablets, can disrupt the sleep cycle. “Eliminating all forms of technology,” says Olson, “at least an hour before desired sleep time can help your body wind down, and prepare for sleep.” Olson also recommends eliminating caffeine later in the day.

If you are a heavy electronics user, I recommend the program “f.lux.” It’s compatible with many smartphones, tablets, and operating systems. It reduces blue light emitted from screens, likely leading to better sleep.

Every year, I go through phases of poor sleep. Seasonal daylight changes (though nothing compared to Alaska’s), schedule changes, and stress, all play a roles in disrupting my sleep patterns. In summer months, I sometimes use a sleeping mask, and I always use blackout curtains which can be effective when bedtimes take place before sunset.

In winter, I recommend trying to get outside during daylight—something that can be difficult in northern latitudes. Full spectrum lights, used in the morning, can also be effective both in improving sleep quality and treating the “winter blues.”

I use a dawn simulator with a reading lamp. The reading lamp has a sleep function which slowly dims the light, simulating a sunset, and an alarm that slowly brightens the light, simulating the sunrise.

Stress and nerves can also play a factor in length and quality of sleep, and the night before an important event, like a race, can cause sleep to suffer. “I always tried to sleep really well two nights out,” says Tollefson. “The night before I usually had more tossing and turning, but the rest is the main thing, so I would just focus on being relaxed.”

A study performed by Dutch researchers confirmed that sleep deprivation the night before a race will not have an overly negative impact on performance. Read about it in “Why You Shouldn’t Freak Out about a Bad Pre-race Sleep,” from Runner’s World.

If you’re really having difficulties sleeping, don’t give up. Many of us are bombarded with stress throughout the day, and our brains can be filled with noise. Take some time during the day to be mindful. Focus on external sensations—sounds, sights, textures—be mindful of what you’re doing without thinking about it.

On a walk or run, focus on the feeling of your feet hitting the ground, the sights and sounds around you, the sensation of movement. To explore meditative running, check out, “Zen and The Art of Running,” by Larry Shapiro.

Taking time during the day to meditate and relax can also help when it’s time to go to sleep at night. There are a plethora of YouTube videos that can guide you through passive, progressive, or active muscle relaxation techniques, as well as videos on meditative prayers. At night, you can try a meditation to help you go to sleep. When I’m really having a hard time sleeping, I set up a meditation for sleep next to my bed, and listen to it as I fall asleep.

Run well and sleep well.

1 Comment
    1. Sleep is definitely overlooked when it comes to training but so important!! I am in the final weeks of marathon training right now so this post was very timely. Thank you!!!

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