Today's Featured Article, "Twelve Tips For Better Sleep", is the second article in a two part series on how sleep affects running (and vice versa), how much sleep is enough and how to improve the duration and quality of your sleep. The first article appeared in last week's issue Run More Sleep Better or Sleep More Run Better?
How much sleep do we need?
James Maas, Cornell University psychology professor and sleep expert states: “Most adults function best on 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep, but runners – especially those training intensely – can benefit from more.
Yet, many North Americans are sleep-deprived. Recent American research indicates that 71% of Americans get less than the 7.5 hours nightly, with one third sleeping less than 6 hours on average.
Are we runners better than the general population at getting adequate sleep? Unfortunately, no. A poll published in the September 2009 issue of Runner’s World showed that 68% of 6,212 respondents got 7 hours of sleep or less.
Why do so many of us not get adequate sleep? Most of us juggle busy family lives, work commitments, social interests and running. It’s easy to not prioritize sleep and short change ourselves in this critical area.
Not to be overlooked is societal shift in sleep patterns caused by the advent of electricity. Prior to the widespread availability of electricity, we slept on average 9-10 hours nightly. In addition to providing us a plethora of activities to divert us from sleep, artificial light interferes with sleep by disrupting our body’s internal clock, further reducing the duration and/or quality of sleep.
Over the past 100 years, we have lost three hours of sleep per night. I don’t think that humans have evolved in such a relatively short time period to where we can function with 1,095 hours less sleep per year than our grandparents or great-grandparents got without negative consequences.
Twelve Tips for Better Sleep
1. Invest in a good mattress and pillow. A 2001 German study concluded that having a medium-firm pillow significantly improves sleep.
2. Maintain the same bedtime and waking time schedule all week long, including weekends (e.g. 11:00 PM – 6:30 AM). Regardless of what your teenagers may tell you, you cannot make up sleep loss accumulated during the week by sleeping in during the weekend. This practice only makes it difficult to fall asleep at bedtime Sunday evening, perpetuating the vicious cycle. Whenever I try to catch up on sleep during the weekend, I feel like I’ve changed time zones on Monday morning.
3. Prioritize your bedtime and work backwards. For example, if your objective is lights out at 11:00 PM, at what time do computers and televisions need to be turned off? Most people (myself included) underestimate the amount of time it takes get ready for bed. If you find yourself not in bed at the desired time, allow more time for your bedtime routine or delete non-essential activities from your routine.
4. Certainly, sick children or other extenuating life circumstances will occasionally get in the way. However, ask yourself if checking your email or watching the news or your favourite program before bedtime is a valid reason for getting inadequate sleep. Why not record it for future viewing?
5. If you have difficulty falling asleep regularly, create a routine 60-90 minutes before bedtime to facilitate relaxation and calmness at bedtime. A warm bath, meditation, breathing exercises, gentle yoga and reading in bed are very helpful.
6. Avoid caffeine from mid-afternoon onwards.
7. Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime.
8. Avoid exercise within 3 hours of bedtime.
9. Exposure to artificial light disrupts your circadian rhythms and can keep you from falling asleep. Turn off your television, computer, cell phone, smartphone, etc, 30 minutes before bedtime.
10. Create an environment that is conducive to sleep. Keep your room dark and cooler than 20C (68F). Cover all sources of artificial light in your bedroom, including TV’s, computers, digital clocks and DVD players.
11. If you wake up after falling asleep, stay in bed (unless you have to use the bathroom), close your eyes and relax. Relaxation exercises or focusing on breathing are effective relaxation methods. Often these will help you fall back asleep.
12. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates your circadian rhythms, signalling your body to feel tired and sleepy in the evening. As we age, our production of melatonin decreases, thereby contributing to sleep difficulties. Melatonin supplementation may prove effective in helping you fall asleep easier, especially if you are over 45. One 3mg pill 30 minutes before bedtime works well for Bennett.
If you regularly exhibit difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, discuss this with your doctor or sleep disorder specialist.
Getting adequate sleep is critical in helping recover from training and repairing itself. Inadequate sleep can often be corrected and may be an easy way to help improve your running in both the short and long term.
Bennett Cohen (the Savvy Runner) and Gail Gould are the Founders and Presidents of the International Association of Women Runners (IAWR). To learn more about this global community of women who share a passion for running, visit www.iawr-connect.com.