For as long as I can remember, I have been extremely protective of my sleep. I never pulled an all-nighter in school, and to this day I try to make a point of going to bed on time. I do this both for my own sake and for the sake of others. When I don’t get enough sleep, especially when I don’t get enough sleep over consecutive nights, not only do I have a hard time focusing and staying motivated, but I also get extremely cranky. The speed at which my internal Patience-o-Meter goes from “Understanding and Forgiving” to “DO NOT CROSS ME” is directly related to how much I slept the night before, and if I’m tired, it’s bad news for everyone involved. On top of all of that, I’m also significantly more prone to anxious moments when I’m not well-rested, particularly to ruminating to the point of nearly giving myself a panic attack. If all of those things aren’t enough reasons to make an effort to get enough sleep, I don’t know what would be.
Except, perhaps, for the added benefits a good night of sleep has on athletic performance as well.
At the beginning of marathon season each year, my group leaders ask those of us who’ve run marathons before to share some advice with those training for their first go at 26.2. When it’s my turn to share, I like to tell the newbies–and, let’s be honest, remind myself–that marathon training is not just an 18-week exercise program. It’s a lifestyle program. If you want to have a good race, you need to live your life throughout training in a way that will maximize your chances for success on race day. You need to do your workouts, or modify them if you’re hurting, you need to eat healthfully to give your body fuel for the run and the nutrients it needs to repair afterwards, you need to wear good shoes when you’re on your feet, and you need to make sure you get enough sleep, particularly as your mileage gets higher. I’m an especially big advocate for getting as much sleep as possible during taper and the week leading up to race day. A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise last year found that several nights of good sleep in a row can help diminish the effects of a bad night of sleep the night before a race, in fact. I’ve had plenty of pre-race restless nights over the years, so I, for one, find it really comforting to know that the sleep I get the week before can help make up for the sleep I miss the night before!
Training for fall marathons in particular can lead to some sleep challenges. Training for those marathons takes place during the summer, when we get the most daylight. I don’t know about you, but I find it nearly impossible to sleep when the sun is up (and, conversely, to get up when the sun is down). Even though I have blinds on my windows, as soon as light starts filtering through, I’m up for the day. While this is nice if I planned to run in the morning, it can also be a big hassle when trying to go to bed early enough to accommodate an even earlier alarm.
During marathon season, I usually try to call it a night around 8:30 when I have a long run the following morning. In June and July especially, this can be really tricky. Daylight lasts beyond 8:00 during those months, and, if you’ve been following this blog for any period of time, you may recall that my neighbors view all summer weekend nights as permission to play their music as loud as possible, regardless of when the sun sets. On top of all of that it is, obviously, a lot warmer both in my house and outside during the summer than during the winter, which can make sleep even harder to come by. Over the years, I’ve come up with a few ways to handle these obstacles to make it easier to get shut-eye before a long run:
Use a noise-cancelling app
There are a variety of noise-cancelling apps that you can download for free on the App Store. I personally use Sleep Pillow. These apps allow you to choose from a variety of sounds that you may find calming–I’m a big fan of rain sounds–to help drown out the drunken antics of your middle aged neighbors (or just to lull you to sleep, if you don’t live in my house 😉 ).
Maintain a comfortable temperature
I don’t like to pay an arm and a leg for electricity any more than the next guy, and I try to keep the air conditioning off in my house as much as possible. However, there are times where the higher bill is worth it, and nights during marathon season are one of those times. Blackout blinds can help keep the bedroom insulated all year round, but if you constantly suffer from night time overheating, you may want to consider investing in
breathable sheets or a cooling mattress. I have a difficult time sleeping without something covering me, so I like to keep the house cool enough that I won’t wake up drenched in sweat if I’m still burrowed under my blankets. I have a difficult time sleeping without something covering me, so I like to keep the house cool enough that I won’t wake up drenched in sweat if I’m still burrowed under my blankets. Speaking of blankets…
Create a cocoon
Hygge is the coolest trend these days, it seems, but I’m pretty sure I’ve been practicing this in my sleeping habits well before it crossed the Atlantic Ocean. I get my best sleep when I’m as cozy as possible. Cool temperatures help make this comfortable, but I’ve found that what I sleep on also makes a difference. I sleep with two pillows under my head, one pushed up against the wall for extra burrow-ability, and have a mattress pad on top of my mattress for added softness. If you’ve never used them, or haven’t replaced yours in over 5 years, you’d be amazed by what a difference a decent topper and great pillow can make to your quality of sleep. I like to cozy up with the stuffed doll I’ve had since I was two (#noshame), and usually within a few moments, I’m drifting off to Dreamland.
Everyone has their own preferences for creating the perfect sleep environment, but regardless of what makes you most comfortable, getting enough sleep can make a big difference in your day. Interested in learning more? Casper created this helpful infographic with lots of great stats about the benefits of getting enough sleep, particularly for athletes.
How much sleep do you get each night? I usually average in the low 7:00 range, somewhere between 7:15-7:30, according to my Fitbit weekly stats.
What do you do to help yourself get a good night of sleep?