Getting runners to follow a training plan is usually pretty straightforward but when it comes to making the same commitment to rest and recovery, many runners undo much of their hard work in the build-up.
Brighton Marathon Coach, Nick Anderson explains why sleep can help you achieve a personal best this April.
Why Sleep is a critical part of your training programme
Quite simply sleep is a critical component of training for any event. Your body gets fitter and adapts to training when you rest, and sleep is the most powerful recovery weapon you have. Elite athletes are focusing more and more on sleep patterns in order to maximise their training benefit. But why is sleep so critical?
Sleep is crucial for recovery from training and daily stress. Restorative functions like muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis and growth hormone release, occur mostly during sleep. Inadequate sleep has negative effects on cognitive function, mood and motivation.
Sleep disturbances can increase the risk for sickness and exercise-induced injuries and there’s a direct link between endurance athletes not getting regular quality sleep and increased risk of poor recovery and declining performances.
It’s easy to believe you are getting 7 or 8 hours good quality sleep every night but sleep tracking can indicate much more about what is happening during the night.
Usually sleep cycles proceed from light sleep into deep sleep and then back up to REM sleep. A typical night’s sleep of a young healthy adult consists of 4 to 5 sleep cycles. This equates to a sleep time of approximately 8 hours.
- Light sleep serves as a transition stage between wakefulness and the deeper stages of sleep. You can be easily awoken from light sleep since your responsiveness to the environmental stimulus remains quite high.
- Most deep sleep occurs during the first half of the night. This sleep stage restores your body and supports your immune system
- REM stands for rapid eye movement. In REM sleep your brain is active but your muscles are inactive to avoid acting out dreams. Just as deep sleep restores your body, REM sleep restores your mind, and enhances memory and learning.
Frequently having nights without adequate deep sleep periods with a higher resting heart rate is an indicator that your body is not fully recovering and leaving you tired and lethargic the next day.
Ways to help improve your sleep
Banishing phones, tablets, laptops and TVs from the bedroom, and avoiding caffeine, and sugar late at night can increase the level of continuous sleep and significantly reduce your heart rate during sleep. Alcohol must also get a mention here. Whilst it is easy to feel that a few glasses of wine help us go off to sleep quickly, the reality is that after consuming even a moderate amount of alcohol, our heart rate barely drops during the night. This elevated heart rate means our body is never really going into a deep sleep recovery phase. It will also lead to less continuous sleep, moving between periods of light sleep and short interruptions of being awake throughout the night.
For those training for a marathon, recovery and quality sleep, plays a significant role in enabling the body to respond to the training stimulus and make the physiological adaptations that ultimately make you faster and stronger come race day.
We have all experienced those periods of any training block when your sessions are not quite where you hoped. Niggles are becoming more frequent and a general drop off of form and motivation. It’s easy to fixate on making changes to our training plan or our nutrition but the issue can often lie in those hours we are asleep, with our body failing to ever drop into a deep sleep phase to enable the training to take effect.
Eat, Sleep, Train, Repeat
Improvements in regular sleep may well be the piece of the jigsaw that once addressed will see the big leap in performance that had previously seemed out of reach. So the old mantra of ‘eat, sleep, train, repeat’, has never seemed more apt.
Nick Anderson is the Official Coach for Brighton Marathon Weekend