*This a guest blog post from sleep expert, Sarah Cummings at Sleep Advisor.
How Many Hours of Sleep is Enough for Runners?
Any runner who has any idea of what they need to succeed will tell you that sleep is high on the list of priorities.
It’s not merely a case of being dedicated to the cause by getting up super early to cram in the miles and slog through sprints when your eyes have just opened, because if you don’t give enough emphasis on your quality of sleep your efforts can all be pretty fruitless when it truly matters come race day!
Athletes who “increased their sleep time ran faster sprints and hit more accurate tennis shots than they did while getting their usual amount of sleep,” a sleep study at Stanford University in the United States found, so studies such as these should be enough to make you want to get your sleep game on point!
Why is sleep so essential as part of an effective training plan?
Sleep has a huge role in a runner’s training plan. What it does is, it helps the ability to make the most of your tireless hours of devotion. No runner wants to pick up an injury, so it’s about staying as fit and healthy as possible; something which sleep can help to fulfill.
For runner’s in general, the sport can take over and everything you do will be centred around this all-encompassing sport. There’s a lot to be said for this, and the benefits to running are huge; both on the physical and mental side of things.
Sleep in lowered amounts brings on irregularities with appetite-signalling hormones in your brain. If you aren’t receiving enough sleep, you’re much more inclined to feel hunger pangs and subsequently eat more than you actually need to. Clearly, for people looking to stay in peak physical shape, this is not a good thing.
Regularly achieve high-quality levels of sleep though and you’ll rid yourself of those unnecessary waves of hunger, and make it easier to remain healthy and keep the diet in check.
When athletes use the ability to combine a sound night’s sleep with effectual training, it increases your chances of trimming down on your weight; not only this, you’re more likely to keep it off too, the American Journal of Epidemiology explains.
The effects of losing sleep include weakening of your body’s ability to store carbohydrates; this is detrimental for endurance athletes such as runners. Another bad thing is having an inadequate sleep space, so make sure that you have a good bed, mattress and pillows in your room to optimise better sleep.
One prime example of why sleep really is one of the most important elements of successful training is this that while you’re in the deeper stages of sleep, human growth hormones (HGH) are released. HGH assists in repairing muscle and transforming fat into much-needed fuel, while also helping to strengthen bones.
If you remove that quality of sleep, then you have to come to terms with lowered HGH levels. This impact of this is that recovery time is affected after training. What’s more, sleep deficiency can also increase cortisol levels, which are stress-related hormones, which act to slow the recovery time you have.
So, just how much sleep does a runner need?
Increasingly, we’re seeing more and more elite and top-level athletes aiming to clock up more than the National Institute of Health’s recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night (for adults), and instead seeking around 10 hours each night. For teenage athletes, you can bump these numbers up by an hour.
This is generally the sleep figures to go by if you aren’t involved in regular activities, such as running. Therefore, if you are training several times a week, then there’s absolutely no reason for you to not look to gain an extra hour’s sleep each evening to help with recovery.
This isn’t always required by every athlete, because we all know that we’re individuals, so it’s not a blanket rule for all. However, you will be able to determine what your body needs when you sleep for additional amounts of time and you wake up feeling refreshed – and the same goes for if you sleep for a lesser amount of time.
What we’re saying here is to not panic if you think you’re not getting enough sleep. Your body is good at letting you know when something’s not up to scratch!
One effective way to find out how much you need to sleep is to run a trial over the course of a week’s holiday. Don’t set an alarm, and simply take note of when you go to sleep, and then mark down when you wake up naturally each morning.
You can use sleep apps, to help you collate all the data and then work out the average sleep times so that you know what you need to function as a runner.