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For a runner to reach his or her potential he or she must develop a training program that incorporates training methods such as proper base building, threshold workouts (tempo runs), and speed workouts (intervals). However, one of the most important parts of an effective training program is when a runner’s body is seemingly doing nothing at all: when it is sleeping.
Sleep is often overlooked by runners, but it is so important in preventing injury and building muscle. Getting least eight hours of sleep a night is one of the first things to try when a runner experiences problems with injuries or endurance. By staying up to late and not sleeping properly a runner makes it impossible for the body to adequately repair itself.
There is no muscle growth during training workouts. In fact, after a hard speed session or long run, the muscles are actually broken down and contain small micro tears. The body has the ability to repair the muscle and actually make it stronger so that it can withstand future workouts. However, this rebuilding occurs primarily during sleep.
When sleeping, the body’s temperature and heart lowers and the entire body enters a stage of relaxation. During the deepest stage of sleep, which is called rapid eye movement (REM), the body releases growth hormones to repair muscle tissue. The muscles are paralyzed during this time to allow maximum repair.
Sleep is also essential for a properly functioning immune system. If the body is sleep deprived, the number of T-cells go down. Among other purposes, T-cells play an important role in activating and directing immune cells. This is why it is so important to sleep well when sick.
REM sleep usually commences about 90 minutes after falling sleep and lasts about two hours on average. However, if a runner is overly stressed or has trouble sleeping, he or she may not ever reach the critical stage of REM. Therefore, take the time to make necessary changes to your schedule or daily habits if you are not getting at least eight hours a day.
If you are having trouble sleeping, try these tips: stick to a schedule and go to bed and wake up at the same times every day, don’t eat large amounts of food before bed, choose a relaxing bed time routine (i.e. hot shower, warm glass of milk, etc.), and ensure that your pillow and mattress are of good quality and as comfortable as possible. If you invest time to ensure that you get enough sleep, you will be paid off with more energy and less chance of injury.
Photo courtesy of Pedro Simões