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Cross Training For Runners

The Essential Guide: How Sleep Can Improve Your Running Performance

15 Mins read

We all know running is fantastic for our bodies and minds, but did you know it can also impact your sleep?

That’s right, today we’re diving into the intriguing relationship between running and sleep to answer the age-old question: Does running help or hurt our precious slumber?

Brace yourself for a startling fact: 40 percent of Americans are falling short of the recommended seven hours of sleep per night, according to the American Psychological Association. That means about 1 in 3 people out there isn’t catching enough Z’s regularly. Scary, isn’t it? And hey, that could be you!

Now, let’s get real. Quality sleep is the secret sauce that elevates your mood, fuels your energy levels, boosts your immune system, and supercharges your recovery. It’s the missing piece of the puzzle that can take your running performance to new heights.

So today, I’m diving deep into the fascinating connection between sleep and running. We’ll uncover how much sleep you truly need, why we runners require that extra dose of shut-eye, and, most importantly, I’ll equip you with some incredible tips on how to optimize your bedtime routine for maximum gains.

Sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it? Grab your favorite pillow, and let’s embark on this sleep-filled journey together.

Trust me, you won’t want to hit the snooze button on this one!

Sleep & Performance

The answer is a resounding yes! It’s not just about physical prowess; it’s about nurturing your body and mind for peak performance.

Imagine your body as a well-oiled machine, ready to conquer the roads and trails. When you prioritize quality sleep, you’re fueling that machine with the power it needs to excel. It’s like giving your car a full tank of high-octane fuel—it runs smoother, faster, and more efficiently. Similarly, when well-rested, your body is primed for optimal performance.

But here’s the kicker: Sleep doesn’t just impact your physical abilities; it also works wonders for your mental game. When you’ve had a restful night’s sleep, your mood skyrockets, your concentration sharpens, and your focus intensifies.

Now, let’s talk about the flip side. When you skimp on sleep, it’s like trying to drive to work with a flat tire. Your energy levels plummet, and suddenly, motivation becomes a scarce resource. We’ve all been there—dragging our feet through the day, struggling to find the drive to exercise, and feeling far from productive. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Don’t just take my word for it. Science has our back on this one. According to research published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, getting enough sleep increases the likelihood of sticking to your workout routine and crushing it the next day. It’s a powerful cycle of motivation and success fueled by the magic of proper sleep.

Let’s turn to the prestigious Stanford University if you need more convincing. They conducted a study on student-athletes and uncovered a fascinating correlation. Those who prioritized more sleep—around 10 hours—performed better than their sleep-deprived counterparts. Talk about a game-changer! But fear not; you don’t have to transform into a 10-hour sleep aficionado. Experts agree that the sweet spot lies between 7 to 9 hours of restful slumber (more on this later)

Muscle Growth & Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Recovery

Picture this: You’ve just conquered a grueling run, pushing your body to its limits. Your muscles ache, your heart pounds, and you sweat.

But here’s the thing: The real magic happens not during the run but in the precious moments of recovery that follow. Your body needs time to heal and grow, and that’s where the power of sleep comes into play.

Now, let’s dive into the captivating research world, where science sheds light on the profound connection between exercise, sleep, and muscle growth. Brace yourself for some mind-blowing findings!

First and foremost, exercise has been proven to enhance sleep quality. It’s like a secret ingredient that infuses your nights with deep, rejuvenating slumber.

Let me explain.

When you exercise regularly, your body reaps many benefits, including weight loss and weight management. Shedding those extra pounds not only boosts your overall health but can also alleviate symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Research suggests that up to 60 percent of OSA cases can be linked to obesity. So, by hitting the pavement, you’re strengthening your muscles and losing weight and enhancing your sleep quality in the long run.

But here’s the twist: When to run for optimal sleep quality still lingers in the air. The scientific jury is still out, my friend. That’s why becoming a detective of your own body is crucial. Listen closely to its cues and signals to determine how your running schedule impacts your sleep quality. Everyone’s body is unique, and what works for one person might not work for another.

How Running May Help You Sleep Better

Imagine your sleep as a sacred sanctuary where your body and mind retreat to restore, rejuvenate, and recharge.

It’s a realm where dreams come alive, and you wake up feeling like a superhero ready to conquer the world.

But what if I told you that running can be the secret key that unlocks the full potential of your sleep?

Let’s explore the fascinating ways that running can supercharge your slumber.

Deep Sleep

Let’s begin with the enchanting realm of deep sleep. Picture it as the enchanted forest of your sleep cycle, where your body undergoes powerful physical restoration.

Research has revealed that regular physical activity, like running, can lengthen your time in this mystical phase.

Deep sleep works its magic by reducing oxidative stress, boosting immune function, and promoting heart health. It’s like a magical potion that replenishes your body, reduces stress, and strengthens your well-being. As you traverse through the realms of deep sleep, you awaken feeling refreshed, revitalized, and ready to take on the day.

But the wonders of running don’t end there. Did you know that exercise can help banish the drowsy dragons of daytime sleepiness?

It’s true! For some lucky individuals, regular exercise can diminish the need for sleep aids and keep fatigue at bay. You become an unstoppable force, brimming with energy and vitality.

Here’s a little secret revealed by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine: Regular exercise has been proven to enhance sleep quality and grant you the gift of undisturbed slumber.

However, there’s a slight catch. It may take a bit of time for your body to adjust to the newfound activity levels (more on this later).

How Exercise Helps you Sleep

Now, let’s delve into the intricate science of how exercise works and its nocturnal wonders. While researchers are still unraveling the exact mechanisms, there are some intriguing theories that ignite our curiosity.

Moderate aerobic exercise, like running, has been linked to increased slow-wave sleep—the legendary deep sleep phase where your body and brain recharge, repair, and rejuvenate.

It’s like pressing the reset button for your mind and body, preparing you for the day’s adventures. What’s more, physical activity can tame the restless beasts of the mind, promoting emotional stability and tranquility, which are essential ingredients for a peaceful slumber.

Increased Duration

Research has shown that regular exercise, such as running, burns off excess energy, leaving you pleasantly tired and ready to drift off into the dreamland.

It’s like a natural lullaby, guiding you gently into deep relaxation. As you surrender to the embrace of sleep, time slows down, and your body indulges in a prolonged rest and rejuvenation.

Reduced Stress

When you immerse yourself in the rhythm of running, the world’s worries fade away, replaced by a sense of liberation and calm.

It’s as if the weight of your troubles is lifted with each stride, and your mind finds respite in the soothing rhythm of your feet hitting the pavement.

The scientific realm has unveiled a remarkable secret. Just five minutes of mild aerobic exercise can ignite a cascade of anti-anxiety responses within your body, washing away the day’s tensions.

It’s like a refreshing rain shower for your soul, washing away the worries and leaving you with a sense of tranquility and peace.

picture of Calf Pain

The Benefits of Sleep For Runners

Each time you embark on a vigorous run, you subject your body to immense stress. Your muscles strain, your bones bear the weight of your determination, and your energy reserves deplete.

That’s why you require ample shut-eye, more than our dear couch-potato companions. Sleep becomes the sacred sanctuary where your body finds solace, repairs itself, and emerges stronger than ever.

Let’s explore some of the benefits that sleep has for runners.


Within the realms of your slumber, a miraculous hormone known as the human growth hormone (HGH) takes center stage. Released by the pituitary gland during the blissful state of slow-wave sleep, HGH works its enchanting magic. It sweeps through your bloodstream, diligently repairing the cellular damage incurred during your demanding runs. Like a master craftsman, it patches up your muscles, allowing them to rebuild and adapt, ensuring you bounce back with resilience and vigor. But that’s not all, my friend. HGH also serves as a catalyst, transforming stubborn fat into fuel and fortifying your bones, forming the foundation of your running prowess.

Now, imagine a world where sleep eludes you, where the curtains of night are drawn too short. In this realm of insufficient slumber, the production of HGH wanes, leaving your body struggling to mend itself. The consequences, my dear runner, can be dire. Inadequate sleep not only impedes your recovery but also increases your susceptibility to injuries and a host of other woes that lurk along the winding road.

Don’t just take my word for it; scientific studies have unveiled the truth. After completing a marathon, runners require extra sleep to facilitate their healing process, and even a single night of sleep deprivation can hinder their recovery. The evidence is undeniable—sleep is the key to unlocking your body’s regenerative powers.

Performance Boost

The benefits of sleep extend beyond mere recovery; they seep into the realm of performance enhancement. A captivating study conducted at Stanford University revealed a remarkable correlation between sleep and athletic prowess. Participants who increased their sleep duration experienced a surge in their sprinting speeds and exhibited a heightened precision in their tennis shots. It’s as if the sands of sleep not only mend your body but also sharpen your skills, allowing you to unleash your full potential.

Stress And Lack of Sleep

Let us venture into the abyss, where sleep deprivation and stress intertwine like ominous dance partners.

Picture cortisol, the catabolic hormone, as a relentless beast that prowls during times of stress, released with a vengeance when sleep eludes us.

Studies published in Sports Medicine have illuminated the dire repercussions of this unholy union. Slumber deprivation, my friend, unleashes a cascade of events that leads to slower recovery times and opens the floodgates to a host of grave health issues.

But wait, there’s more. Let’s shine a light on a fascinating study conducted by the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center, revealing a hidden secret within sleep deprivation.

Sleep-deprived individuals may unwittingly consume an extra 300 calories or more per day. Yes, you heard it right.

To understand this phenomenon, let’s talk about hormones. Ghrelin, aptly named the hunger hormone, plays a pivotal role in our insatiable desire to eat. When sleep-deprived, our bodies unleash this hormone with unruly abandon, sending a relentless signal to devour everything in sight.

But wait, there’s a twist in the tale. Enter leptin, the guardian of satiety. This hormone, responsible for making us feel full, becomes a casualty of sleep deprivation.

Our weary bodies produce less leptin, stranding us in a perpetual state of insatiable hunger. The balance between hunger and fullness, delicately orchestrated by sleep, crumbles, leading to a relentless cycle of overeating and weight gain.

The consequences of sleep deprivation extend far beyond mere culinary indulgence. They reach into the depths of our well-being, shaking the very foundation of our health. Heart disease, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes—the list looms ominously, casting a shadow over our lives.

Reduced sex drive, impaired judgment, obesity, and lower mental insight add to the haunting chorus of sleep’s absence. Even our external shell, our once-youthful skin, withers under the weight of sleep deprivation.

The effects ripple through our productivity, leaving us adrift in a sea of fatigue, accidents, and depression. And let us not forget the toll it takes on our liver, whose function falters under the strain.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the big picture.

For these reasons, and some more, if you regularly deprive yourself of sleep, you’re likely not doing your fitness and health any favors.

Will Running Cause Insomnia?

Fear not, for the answer is likely a resounding no.

However, there are a few factors to consider—like the type of workout and intensity—to ensure a harmonious coexistence between running and quality sleep, as revealed by intriguing research.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine sheds light on the intricate dance between exertion and slumber. Surprisingly, subjects who reported greater exertion before bedtime were more efficient sleepers.

But, alas, some unlucky souls find their sleep compromised by running.

Let’s explore why running may wield a sinister influence on sleep quality.

Too Much Stimulation

Imagine your body as a delicate symphony of systems guided by the autonomic nervous system.

This symphony is invigorated when you run, stimulating your body and mind. The more vigorous the exercise, the more pronounced the stimulation. It’s like a whirlwind that takes time to settle, making it harder to unwind and find tranquility.

Too Many Chemicals

Chemistry plays its part in this mysterious equation. As you run, your body releases endorphins and other chemicals, infusing your brain with activity. It’s like a captivating show that plays out within your mind, keeping you awake when all you crave is the embrace of slumber.

Increased Body Temperature

Let’s not forget the role of temperature—a key player in the grand performance of sleep. Running raises your core body temperature, creating a sensation akin to taking a hot shower. This elevation tells your body it’s time to be alert and awake. However, fear not, dear runner, for there is hope. Within 30 to 90 minutes after your run, your core body temperature begins its gradual descent, signaling the arrival of sleepiness, and inviting you to the realm of dreams.


Like any endeavor, too much of a good thing can become problematic. Overtraining, a common pitfall for ambitious runners, can lead to sleep issues. Research has identified insomnia as a telltale sign of overtraining. Beware the siren call of excessive exertion and honor the balance between effort and rest.

It Takes Time

Don’t expect overnight better sleep results after taking up running.

While research shows that running—and exercise in general—can improve sleep quality, it may take time for your body to adjust to the increased activity level. Patience, perseverance, and a dash of understanding are needed on this transformative journey.

So don’t feel disappointed if your new running routine doesn’t improve the quality of your sleep overnight.

How Much Sleep Do Runners Need?

The answer is as elusive as a shooting star, for it depends on a myriad of factors. From the intensity of your training to your age, stress levels, environment, and even your genetics—sleep needs vary from one individual to another.

But fear not, for there is a universal truth that binds us all. Sleep is an essential ingredient for optimal functioning. And for runners, those intrepid souls who conquer miles upon miles, it becomes even more crucial to pay heed to the quantity and quality of our precious slumber.

So what is the sweet spot? Most researchers advocate for around 7.5 hours of sleep per night but let’s set the bar higher, my friend. Let’s aim for over eight hours of blissful shut-eye to unleash our full potential.

The Hidden Formula

There’s a hidden gem of wisdom that often goes unnoticed—a rule of thumb that connects the dots between your running and your sleep.

For every mile you conquer during the week, grant yourself an additional minute of blissful repose. It may sound whimsical, but trust me, it’s a rule worth following. So, if you’re conquering 42 miles per week, your nightly slumber should extend beyond the conventional 8 hours. Add those 42 precious minutes to the equation, and you’ll find yourself basking in at least 60 hours of rejuvenation per week.

The more you demand from your body, the more time it craves to repair and recover. It’s a simple equation that speaks volumes. Increasing your training load places greater demands on your body, necessitating additional sleep to ensure proper restoration. Marathon runners, those brave souls who tackle the ultimate test of endurance, require even more hours of slumber to bounce back like resilient warriors.

Don’t Forget About Quality

First things first, my busy bees out there—you know who you are. If you’re juggling a whirlwind of responsibilities, it’s highly likely that your sleep is taking a backseat.

Now, let’s dive into my treasure trove of sleep optimization tips. Consider them your golden ticket to a rejuvenating night of rest, setting the stage for running greatness.

Early Exit

Picture this—a blissful run bathed in golden sunlight, a symphony of endorphins pulsating through your veins. But here’s the catch: wrap up your running adventures at least two hours before bedtime. Give those endorphin levels a chance to settle down, allowing your brain to unwind and embrace tranquility.

Rise and Shine

Are you an early morning runner, greeting the dawn with each stride? Well, my friend, adjust your bedtime accordingly. Grant yourself the gift of additional sleep by retiring earlier than usual. Your body will thank you for it, and your morning runs will be invigorating.

Log it

Keep a sleep journal, a chronicle of your running escapades and slumber tales. Jot down the time you went to bed, the duration it took to doze off, and the overall sleep quality. This record will provide valuable insights into the ideal time for your running exploits and help fine-tune your sleep routine.

Embrace the Dark Side

As bedtime approaches, embark on a mission to reduce your exposure to blue light. Those glaring screens and artificial lights wreak havoc on your body’s natural rhythm, disrupting the release of sleep-inducing hormones like melatonin. So dim the lights, power down those devices, and create a serene ambiance that beckons sweet dreams.

Ritual Magic

Unleash the power of rituals, my friends. Develop a pre-bedtime routine that signals to your body that it’s time to enter the realm of slumber. Whether it’s a soothing shower, a toothbrush tango, or a literary rendezvous with a captivating book, find what works for you and let it become your sleep sanctuary’s secret sauce.

Consistency is Key

Ah, the sweet symphony of regularity. Set your internal clock to a harmonious rhythm by establishing consistent sleeping patterns. Embrace the beauty of going to bed and waking up at the same time throughout the week. Soon enough, your body will dance to this familiar tune, and alarms will become relic of the past.

Chill Out

Picture this—a bedroom transformed into an oasis of cool tranquility, with temperatures hovering between 60.8°F (16°C) and 64.4°F (18°C). Embrace the power of a cool sleeping environment, allowing your body to drift into a restful slumber, undisturbed by the discomfort of excessive heat.

Prioritize Sleep

Make it non-negotiable, going to bed and waking up at consistent times. Embrace the “clockwork” mentality when it comes to sleep, for it is the foundation upon which greatness is built.

No Late Heavy Eating

Give your digestive system a break by avoiding highly processed or heavy foods in the three to four hours leading up to slumber.

Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine

These sneaky stimulants can wreak havoc on your sleep quality if consumed too close to bedtime. Keep them at bay for at least three hours before surrendering to the embrace of sleep.

Gradual Progress

Instead of attempting an overnight sleep transformation, increase your sleep time gradually. Start by hitting the hay 10 to 20 minutes earlier for a week, then gradually add an extra minute or two each week. Small steps pave the way to lasting change.

Have Naps

When done right, a well-timed nap can infuse you with a burst of energy. Keep your naps under 30 minutes, avoiding the temptation to venture into the realm of extended siestas. Oversleeping during a nap can disrupt your sleep patterns and leave you with a dreaded “sleep inertia”—that groggy haze upon awakening.

Embrace the Quest for the Perfect Nest

Your mattress and pillow hold the key to a rejuvenating night’s rest. If you find yourself tossing and turning, it may be time to embark on a quest for an upgrade. Seek a mattress that aligns with your desired level of firmness or softness, considering the support your body craves.

And do not underestimate the power of a good pillow—a worthy ally in the banishing neck and back pain that often greets us upon awakening.

Find The Right Position

Doctors whisper their wisdom, urging us to embrace the side-slumbering stance. While the allure of sleeping on our stomachs tempts us with fleeting comfort, it can bring about restlessness and unwelcome pains in the neck and lower back.

As for sleeping on our backs, beware of the increased serenade of snores and the physical discomfort that may arise.

Avoid Weekend Traps

Steer clear of social jet lag by maintaining a consistent sleep-wake routine, even on weekends. This simple act helps your body maintain its internal clock, making it easier to fall and stay asleep.

My Sleep Routine: Unveiling the Secrets to Restful Nights

Allow me to share the enchanting dance that leads me to slumber each night. My routine, though simple, is a meticulously crafted symphony of relaxation and preparation for the adventures that await me in dreamland.

As the clock strikes 10:00 pm, I bid farewell to the digital realm, closing my laptop with a satisfying click. It’s a symbolic act, a declaration to the universe that it’s time to unplug and disconnect from the chaos of the day.

Next, I indulge in the soothing embrace of a warm shower, a ritual that washes away the remnants of stress and tension, preparing me for the tranquility that lies ahead. The water cascades over my body, cleansing not just my physical being but also my mind, offering a refreshing reset.

With minty-fresh teeth and a sense of newfound clarity, I embark on laying out my attire for the following day. A meticulously chosen ensemble that encompasses work and workout clothes is a testament to the seamless integration of productivity and self-care in my life.

Ah, the art of meditation—a balm for the soul. For twenty blissful minutes, I surrender to the embrace of stillness and mindfulness. In this sacred space, I find solace, peace, and the gentle rhythm of my breath guiding me toward inner harmony.

And then, the final act of preparation unfolds. I set the alarm clock, bidding it to awaken me at the dawn of a new day. With gratitude for the day that has passed and anticipation for the one that awaits, I slip beneath the covers and let the soothing embrace of my bed cradle me.

Is my routine perfect every night? Alas, life has a way of throwing curveballs. But I am steadfast in my commitment to adhere to this ritual as much as possible, recognizing its power to guide me towards restful slumber and invigorated mornings.

Sleep For Runners – The Conclusion

In conclusion, my fellow slumber enthusiasts, remember that sleep is not just an ephemeral companion on our nocturnal journeys but an essential pillar of overall well-being. So, my friends, take these pearls of wisdom, weave them into the tapestry of your bedtime routine, and let the sweet melodies of restful sleep carry you to new heights of vitality and serenity.

Do share your thoughts, questions, and nocturnal escapades in the comments section below. And until we meet again, sleep tight and awaken refreshed.

Yours in the pursuit of restful dreams,

David D.

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