Saturday, October 4, 2014

Prioritize Your Sleep to Get the Most Out of Training

I will be submitting articles to my Running Club for our monthly newsletter. If you reside in New Jersey and would like to become a member of Clifton Road Runners, please visit this website for more information on how to join: 

Here is a copy of the most recent article:

Prioritize Your Sleep to Get the Most Out of Training
by Shannon McGinn, Certified Running Coach 
Sept 2014

How often do you truly get a good night’s sleep? Most of us are guilty of stealing hours from our sleep in order to be “more productive”.  In some cases, getting better organized can help us find that extra time to be more productive without compromising our sleep. In other cases, we will need to change our patterns of behavior so that we can sleep better (e.g. Get off Facebook and go to bed).  Seriously commit to getting more and/or better quality sleep, especially as your training mileage increases, and you will see greater improvements in recovery time and running performance. If running well is important to you, then sleep must become a priority. 

How much sleep is enough sleep? One rule of thumb states that runners should add one minute more of sleep per night for every mile per week that is run (e.g. If you run 60 miles per week, you need to get an extra hour of sleep per night as compared to when you ran 0 miles per week). Most of us really do need an average of 7-9 hours of sleep per night. This means runners should be getting more than that average.

More Sleep = Better Recovery. The release of human growth hormones (HGH) surges while we sleep. Training breaks down body tissue in order to rebuild it stronger. HGH repairs body tissue. To encourage the body to release the most HGH possible, get on a regular sleep schedule. HGH is not released while awake. Sleep deprivation disrupts the timing and the amount of HGH released once regular sleep is resumed. Yes, this is the same HGH that elite athletes get in trouble for using in supplement form. Since we know how desirable HGH is for athletes and we have the ability to maximize our body’s production of this performance enhancing hormone (in a legal and natural way), it makes sense that we make every effort get as much sleep as possible. Read all about Sleep and HGH here:   

More Sleep = Better Training. A rested body and rested mind will train better.  Few things contribute as much to missing or failing a workout than exhaustion. It becomes too easy to decide sleep though the alarm when the body is sleep deprived. In fact, it may be best to do just that, if the body is in need of more rest. Chronic sleep deprivation may contribute to higher injury rates.  A body forced to train after less than ideal recovery is not as likely to tolerate hard workouts as well as a rested body is. In addition, sleep deprivation can suppress the immune system making us more susceptible to illness. Even though many runners attempt to continue to train while ill, a sick runner can never train as well as healthy runner.  

More Sleep =  Better Eating. Healthy eating results in better athletic performance. Well-rested people tend to eat less and/or eat better. Late night snacking is often automatically eliminated by going to bed earlier.  While awake, well-rested people make better food choices.  A fatigued person is more likely to choose high calorie junk food because exhaustion lowers will power. Sugary snacks provide a quick surge in energy, which is something exhausted people crave (followed, unfortunately, by a low energy crash).   

What the Pros do. Here is a great resource that highlights some conclusions about the impact of sleep on athletic performance. It also graphs how much sleep professional athletes get. Tiger Woods really needs to do better.

What can we do? To become a better runner, start paying closer attention to your sleep patterns. Make it a priority to get high quality sleep for the maximum amount of time possible. Here is a Sleep Diary to help you get started:

If you cannot get more hours of sleep, make the sleep you get higher quality. Make your bedding more comfortable. Think about room temperature, excess lighting, excess noises and minimize any disruptions. Set a regular bedtime and wake up schedule, even on the weekends, to maintain a regular routine. For more idea about how to improve the quality of sleep, see

What you are all doing as runners is very hard and very time consuming. But if you make getting quality sleep a real priority it will absolutely help to make all the hard work you do as a runner much more effective.  For more information about how important sleep is to athletic performance, see


Shannon McGinn is an RRCA Certified Distance Running Coach and the owner of Creating Momentum, LLC.  She is a life-long runner, becoming more involved in racing after surviving cancer.  She considers herself a marathon and ultramarathon specialist, earning several USATF National Championship top 10 or better placements in the 50k and 50M distances. She has not missed a day of running since December 2011. 

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