Meghan Kennihan
May 30, 2016 · 3 min read

If you could do just one thing to increase your mental power, performance, build muscle, and lose fat — would you do it? Yes? All you have to do is SLEEP.

Runners are always looking for the next best shoe, apparel, supplement, training plan to improve their performance. We spend millions of dollars trying techniques or products that will keep us injury free and achieving that elusive PR. I have found the “magic” pill, it will not cost you a thing! SLEEP. Sleep is one of the most overlooked aspects of training by runners, even though it is the most important aspect in preventing injury, enhancing your recovery, building strength, and improving speed.

There are many other benefits to sleep besides repairing your damaged muscles. You cannot be healthy without adequate sleep. End of story.

Among other things, a full night’s sleep:

  • enhances memory and mental clarity
  • improves athletic performance
  • boosts mood and overall energy
  • improves immune function
  • increases stress tolerance

You may think that you can ‘burn the candle at both ends’ but unfortunately the body doesn’t forget the importance of sleep. It’s absolutely essential for basic maintenance and repair of the neurological, endocrine, immune, musculoskeletal and digestive systems. There is no muscle growth, tissue repair, or speed development during training workouts. After a hard run or speed session muscles contain micro tears and break down. These tears can be repaired making you stronger but this repair occurs predominantly during sleep. Research at Stanford University shows that athletes who get sleep have improved ability at sprinting, faster reaction times, and improved moods.

When runners deprive themselves of sleep, getting 6 hours or less, the negative consequences come fast and furious.

  • Weakens your immune system {2}: getting sick = less training, poor training
  • Leads to Obesity{3}: Recent studies have shown that even one night of poor sleep can result in changes in appetite and food intake. Sleep deprivation also impairs carbohydrate tolerance, insulin sensitivity, and glucose uptake. When glucose uptake is inhibited, you aren’t able to refuel before, during, and after your workouts.
  • Intellectual Decline {4}: sleep deprivation negatively impacts short-term and working memory, long-term memory and the generation of nerve cells — all of which affects our ability to think clearly and function well.
  • Inflammation{5}: Sleep deprivation causes chronic, low-grade inflammation. Inflammation is the root of all modern disease and severely inhibits the bodies’ ability to repair muscles, tissue, and tendon damage.
  • Injury: When you don’t get enough sleep your motor responses are dulled, this leads to bad form, inefficient neuromuscular patterns and injury

Basically there is no disease or condition (physical, mental, or even spiritual) that sleep deprivation doesn’t either contribute to directly or make worse. So, how do you get good sleep?

1) No Artificial light 2 hours before bed: Artificial light disrupts our circadian rhythm and throws off our sleep. Artificial light (think TV, computer screens, digital clocks, street lamps) at night disrupts the circadian mode of cell division, this severely impacts our sleep, and can even increase our risk of cancer {6}. How do you reduce light exposure?

  • Use a sleep mask
  • Turn off the electronics in your bedroom that glow or give off light
  • Use blackout shades
  • Cover your alarm clock
  • No computer or TV 2 hours before bed

2) Manage your stress during the day, including training stress:

Change in sleeping habits is an early warning sign of overtraining or too much outside stress from work or life. The physical and psychological stresses of training beyond what your body is capable of stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, this leads to irritability and reduction in the quality and quantity of sleep. When you have unusual difficulty sleeping, you could be training too hard, too frequently, or overdoing it in other areas of your life.

· Yoga

· Deep Breathing Exercises

· Reduce your training intensity and/or volume

· Re-evaluate your time management skills

3) Nap:

A short nap of even 20 minutes will give you a period of REM sleep to help get you out of any sleep debt you may be accumulating at night.

4) Routine:

If you can keep a consistent routine it will help you regulate your sleep better. Try to get to bed at the same time every night, and wake up around the same time every morning. A relaxing unwinding ritual can help prepare you for bed. Like taking a bath of Epsom salts, drinking tea, yoga poses, meditation.

1. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/74081.php

2. http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/article/8509#_jmp0_

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18274263

4. http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/article/8509

5. http://www.latimes.com/features/health/la-he-sleep30-2009mar30,0,1418832.story

6. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-04/uoh-ala041210.php

7. http://jap.physiology.org/content/110/3/619.abstract?rss=1

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Meghan Kennihan

Written by

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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