Stop for a minute, and think: can you recall the best night of sleep you’ve ever had? Maybe your top five nights of nocturnal bliss? One in particular stands out for me, and it happened 20 years ago. But I never considered the importance of hitting the hay until I became a mother of twins. I missed a lot of Z’s the first year after their birth. Then I tried running on reduced slumber and found out a body deprived of sleep can only function for so long.
The Sleep Foundation reminds us that athletes experience a significantly higher loss of fluids, as well as a break down of muscle and loss of energy during training. If quality snooze time is interrupted or cut short, our bodies won’t have adequate time to repair muscle, consolidate memory and release hormones – all important for athletes to succeed and find happiness in their sport. Weight gain, depression, and high blood pressure are side effects when sleep is lost. But another symptom that men might not be aware of is a drop in testosterone levels. The Journal of American Medical Association states that the majority of daily testosterone release in men is during sleeping hours.
Ultrarunners are known for waking before dawn to get longer training runs under their belt. So going to bed at an hour that will allow 7-10 hours of sleep prior, should be considered just as heavily as the amount of miles one is running for the week. The benefits are so rewarding that the importance of sleep should be reinforced to every runner during training. Reaction time, accuracy and speed can all increase with additional rest. Simply put, when runners push their bodies for extended periods of time, they need to spend an equal number of hours on restoration and muscle repair – there is no substitute or short-cut.
What equates to a good night of sleep depends on your environment. Keep the kids and pets out of your bed and in theirs, turn off lights and devices, and make sure to turn down the thermostat. My favorite way to fall asleep is under a heavy blanket on a firm mattress in a cool room. But everyone has their level of comfort and favorite way to unwind at the end of the day. As an ultrarunner, you’re probably more aware of this than anyone – being on your feet all day means bedtime is much more rewarding.