How does sleep affect the body and mind?
When we sleep we recover from the day's physical exertions. The body repairs damaged tissue and builds stronger muscle.
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is a natural hormone produced by the pituitary gland and released into the bloodstream, and it is key to this recovery and rebuilding process, helping to convert fat into fuel and also keeping our bones strong. It is produced during deeper sleep. The further benefits of sleep are manifold:
- Sleep helps us to maintain a healthy immune system.
- Sleep helps with fat loss.
- Sleep can help our capacity for memory.
- Sleep can help our levels of concentration, an important factor when we train.
Experts in the field of sleep recommend 7 to 9 hours for adults and 9 to 10 hours for younger persons. The more intensely we train, the more sleep we need. The body requires more recovery time when we make greater demands on it.
The effects of a sleep deficit
One sleepless night may not affect your running performance, but insufficient sleep over a prolonged period can affect your physical and your mental performance.
- Physically, your body will not be producing sufficient HGH to aid recovery and rebuilding of tissue and muscle.
- Mentally, your mood and concentration may be affected to the extent that you will find it harder to tap inner resources like determination and perseverance. Your running may become more challenging, both physically and mentally as a result of a sleep deficit.
- If we sleep too little there can be an increase of the hormone cortisol in the system. Cortisol regulates the level of glucose in the bloodstream and too much of it can lead to a blood sugar imbalance. It can also slow down the regeneration of cells, and recovery times can therefore be longer.
A sleep debt can be accumulated over time, but it can also be reduced.
Tips on how to get the sleep you need
- When creating your personalised training schedule, make sure you prioritise adequate sleep, alongside your training runs and your diet. View it as an essential part of your recovery.
- Over a period of a few weeks experiment with your sleep by going to bed e.g. 15 or 30 minutes earlier. See what effect that might have on your day-to-day sense of well-being and your running performance.
- If you have a sleep debt try a power nap for 10-15 minutes during the day.
- Keep your sleep pattern as regular as possible, even at the weekend. If you get enough sleep during the week you may not need that weekend lie-in!
- Increase the amount of sleep you get in the weeks before a race day.
- If you are travelling abroad for a race, try to build in extra rest and sleep time to get over the effects of jet lag as soon as you can. You could even start adjusting your body clock before you leave home.
- If you have a choice, experiment with running in the morning or running in the evening. You may find your sleep improves if you do one or the other.
- Wear compression tights while you sleep to aid muscle recovery overnight.
- Watch your caffeine levels and stop drinking caffeinated drinks earlier in the day. Caffeine (and alcohol) also increase the level of cortisol in the body.
- Leave your technology devices aside earlier in the evening to allow your brain to settle down before sleep. You will probably fall asleep sooner and have a better chance of a good night's sleep.
Talking of which, I'll stop typing now and get some shut-eye!