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Sleep or Run? Sleep wins every time. Here’s why.

Most long distance runners tend to fit that type-A personality.  They’re so planned that the first thing they do in the morning is run and the first thing they do before they go to bed at night is plan what time they will get up and run!  In fact, studies show that the addiction from long distance runners comes not from the endorphins that are released after a run, but from the “planning” that is involved with each day’s run.  It’s the gratification one gets from scheduling and knowing that the run has been booked and “will-happen”.  This leads to the reason for this post.  Lack of sleep.  Many runners are so focused on following a schedule and getting their “run in” that they will sacrifice sleep.  The human body follows what is known as a circadian rhythm, or the patterns in which we sleep.  So when it’s 10:00pm or so and our bodies start to get tired, we typically shut it down and go to bed.  The same process happens in the morning.  If we’re used to waking up at 6:00, and it’s the weekend and we want to sleep it, more often than not we can’t because we are used to getting up.  Now, here’s where the problem lies with runners.  It’s 10:30, and we’re ready for bed, but we need to schedule a long run tomorrow morning which is Saturday. There’s not time to do it later in the morning because the schedule for the day is full of kid’s activities.  So what do we do?  Wake up at 5:00.  Not bad right? One hour less of sleep then if we normally got up at 6am.   But the night before was friday and you ended up staying awake until 11:30 and probably didn’t get some serious sleep going until midnight.  Now we’re down to 5 hours of sleep.  If you’re used to running on 7 hours of sleep and you get 5, that’s roughly 30% less sleep.  The problem is that the human body (and this does vary) needs on average 8 hours of sleep, and marathon runners need more.  So in essence you’re heading out the door and you’ve missed almost 40% of what you require to just function with your normal day to day activities, and you’re going to run 18 miles.  Not smart, huh?  Then guess what follows.  A full day of actives, hopefully some good nutrition, and then back to bed if you’re lucky at a reasonable time because it’s the weekend and you need to have some fun, right?  The cycle continues and your runs far outweigh your need for sleep.

Two things are happening here.  One, your not performing to your highest potential when you head out for a run with a lack of sleep so you’ll never peak in terms of how fast and efficient you can run.  Two, you aren’t recovering properly and the appropriate physiologic response for your body to build new tissue isn’t occurring. Simply put, the breakdown process outweighs the building process of the muscles.  This leads to injury.

Does this sound familiar?  Read the article that follows below on Gwen Jorgensen who is an Olympic Triathlete.  She gets 9-10 hours of sleep a night.


Just some thoughts to consider as you pencil in runs for your next marathon training program.

Image Credit: Nils Nilsen/

Source: Gwen Jorgensen: Down Time Helped Me Win Gold In Rio

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