Importance of Sleep for Runners

By Emma Andrews on April 22, 2015 , categorized in Endurance

Hard exercise is a stressor, and as the frequency, intensity and duration of your runs while training for a 10K, half or full marathon increase, it is important to deal with that stress head on. Rest and recovery is what turns that stress into fitness gains. Good quality sleep is impaired by the hormone cortisol, which is produced during times of (physical or mental) stress. This can also impact your ability to fall asleep easily (despite a long hard workout). To maximize the quality of your rest, try these tips and watch for improvements in your fitness, endurance and speed.

1. Eat Plant-based Foods that Reduce Stress

Eat chlorophyll-rich, highly alkaline-forming foods in your recovery snacks and meals. This includes all plants with a green pigment, and generally, the darker the pigment, the more nutrients it contains. Eat a variety of nutrient dense, plant-based foods such as kale, spinach, broccoli, spirulina, chlorella, chard, sprouts, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and green herbs. Try them raw in salads, lightly steamed as a base for stir fry, blended in soups, or add leafy greens or powdered algae to your recovery smoothies.

2. Focus on Nourishment Instead of Stimulation.

We typically spend more of our day thinking about drinks and foods we could consume for more energy, but rarely do we think about foods or habits that would contribute to better sleep, a more sustainable way to gain energy. Sleep-friendly foods include Savi Seed (Sacha Inchi Seeds) and tart cherries, both food sources of melatonin and serotonin which regulate sleep/wake cycles, and moods; and foods rich in calcium and magnesium such as hazelnuts and pecans. Try these combined in trail mix for an after dinner snack, at least an hour before bed.

3. Let Your Body Adapt

Make smaller, incremental adjustments to your training program versus drastic ones. Let your body adapt to the stress over time, and you’re less likely to impact the quality of your sleep.

4. Take a Bath Instead of Watching TV to Relax

Swap screen time for bath time. Reducing light exposure can help shift the body from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system (fight or flight mode, into rest mode). Try relaxing in an Epsom salt bath to unwind, versus browsing online, or watching TV. Epsom salts contain magnesium which is necessary for muscle relaxation.

5. Give Meditation a Chance

When in doubt, count it out. If you’re so desperate you’d start counting sheep, try this relaxing meditation to calm the mind and still the body. Using the breath as the point of focus, breathe and out for one count each. Follow with an inhalation and exhalation for two counts, each. Repeat with three, four, five etc…all the way to 10. The final breath will be a 10 second inhalation and 10 second exhalation.

What are your healthy sleep habits for improving recovery?

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Emma Andrews

Emma Andrews is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, certified in Plant-based Cooking. An endurance runner and cross-training addict, Emma believes the kitchen is your playground. She loves exploring new and innovative ingredients, recipes and food trends almost as much as she loves beating a personal best in trail and road races all around North America. Her motto? “Live a life that’s anything but average!” Learn more about her work as a public speaker and wellness educator at emmamazing.com or join her on social @emmamazing_life

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