You tip-toe out the door in the pre-dawn darkness. You feel like the essence of being a committed runner. Maybe this is the only way you can fit any running in at all. Days can get so full that forgoing sleep is the only way to fit more in. Maybe you are in the run up to a big event. Getting time on your feet for a marathon or more can lead to long bursts of stretching the clock.
But what about waking up to your need for long lasting well-being and lifelong running? Do you want to collect another medal (and another injury) at the expense of your health in the long run?
Do you nod off in the afternoon? Are you chugging down caffeine and sugar to keep going? Chances are you are a sleep thief, and you are only robbing yourself.
Shaving just ninety minutes a night off your sleep could cut your daytime alertness by as much as a third.
This affects your memory. It disrupts your love life. You risk accident and injury. You could be increasing your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and psychiatric problems.
Studies suggest that your overall risk of death increases significantly if you are getting less than six hours of sleep each night. Insufficient sleep may even be a greater mortality risk than smoking, high blood pressure and heart disease.
If your 5am run means you’re not getting enough shut-eye you might just as well stay home smoking and eating pizza. And if you are running to lose weight, lack of sleep will likely lead to overeating in order to try and stay awake.
So how much sleep is ‘natural’? The nine-to-five, let alone the eight-to-six, might already be robbing you of your natural sleep rhythm. That’s even before you start you running-all-hours routine.
Do you live somewhere that gets dark for 14 hours or more? If so it may be that a more natural sleep rhythm would be to sleep in two four-hour phases with an hour or so up in-between. Studies suggest this was the norm in northern Europe in pre-Industrial times. Modern people default to this pattern if exposed to long dark periods. Research suggests the traditional winter night time wakefulness is best used for peaceful activities, because the body is still in a restorative phase. So even if your lifestyle is flexible enough to try this, you should do your stretching or meditation in the middle of the night, not your running.
So what does lack of sleep do to you athletic performance?
Some research suggests that sleep deprivation increases levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Your body thinks you must be stressed or in danger to not be sleeping when you should be. It reacts accordingly. It gives you the cortisol to deal with whatever primal threat you must be facing.
Sleep deprivation has also been shown to decrease production of glycogen and carbohydrates. These are your stored energy for physical activity.
Sleep is also the time for the cell repair that aids recovery from injuries or tensions built up in your body. Lack of sleep suppresses your immune system. It makes it more likely you will get sick and have to take time off from running.
Do you start to get the picture that this may be a really bad strategy for health and fitness?
It’s time to start seeing sleep as an indispensable part of your training routine.
If becoming the best athlete that you can be is one of your goals, then I would love to have you along to one (or many) of our upcoming events.
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