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The Importance of Sleep for Runners

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If the yawning faces at Starbucks every morning are any indication, most of us are seriously lacking a good night’s sleep. This may be especially true for athletes, who often feel the pressure to balance work, family and training. Whether it’s waking up for a 5 a.m. tempo run or hitting the treadmill after the kids have gone to bed, getting a full night’s sleep often gets bumped to the bottom of the to-do list.

If you often trade in Z’s for miles, it’s time to reassess your priorities. Skipping an hour (or more) of sleep in favor of work or play may help us feel like we’re getting extra time in the day, but experts say the consequences of sleep deprivation go far beyond fatigue.

THE PRICE TO PAY

In the short term, insufficient sleep can lead to impaired cognitive function and slower reaction times. Over a longer period, lack of sleep also leads to abnormal hormone levels, which may result in weight gain. In a 16-year study of over 60,000 women, researchers discovered that women who slept less than five hours per night put on more pounds than those who slept seven hours or more each night, even if they exercised and ate a healthy diet.

For runners, sleep is especially critical for performance, as deprivation can impair post-exercise recovery. During a workout, your muscles break down on a cellular level. Sleep allows the body to repair those cells, enabling you to bounce back stronger and faster.

Insufficient sleep also impacts our immune function and increases the risk of infection. Training without adequate sleep takes your already damaged cells and destroys them further until illness or injury finally force you to rest.

RELATED ARTICLE: RECOVERY DAYS

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?

The National Sleep Foundation reports that the average American gets just six hours and 50 minutes of snooze time a night, far less than the recommended seven and a half to eight and a half hours. But keep in mind that sleep needs vary from person to person, and if you are increasing your mileage, your body’s demand may be even higher than the recommended range.

A good gauge of whether you are getting adequate sleep is your daytime alertness and functioning. When you are sleeping enough, you are alert throughout the day. If you are in good health yet feel excessively drowsy, it’s likely you need more Z’s.

QUANTITY AND QUALITY

Getting more sleep is easier said than done. Even when you’ve been  exhausted all day and tuck into bed at a reasonable hour, it’s sometimes difficult to fall asleep. Quality slumber takes more than turning out the lights. Here’s how to outsmart common sleep saboteurs . . .

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