Better Your Sleep Before a Marathon

Mike Finch |

The rest you get leading up to the race is just as important as the night before. – By Susan Paul

Photograph by Getty Images
Photograph by Getty Images

Beth asks: Any tips for getting to bed early on those nights before long runs or a race? My marathon starts at 6 a.m., so I’ve been doing my training runs early in the morning to become accustomed to running early, but I’m having a hard time getting to sleep before these runs.

You are right on track by running early and simulating race day. It’s important to continue your early morning runs, but it’s also important to get quality sleep. Just like so many other aspects of marathon training, you will need to experiment and see what works best for you.

There are a variety of sleep strategies you can try, but first, figure out just how much sleep you need to have each night. If you are uncertain, use the general recommendation of at seven to nine hours a night.

Next, be consistent with your sleep pattern. This means going to bed and getting up in the morning at the same. As the race approaches you should vary the time you go to sleep and the time you wake up each morning by no more than two hours, which means getting up early on even non-run mornings.

Put the extra time on non-run mornings to good use. Spend this time stretching, foam rolling, doing core exercises, or doing other forms of cross-training to supplement your running. If, or when, you feel like you need to make up for any lost sleep – avoid the urge to sleep in. Plan to nap in the afternoon instead for no longer than 30 minutes so as not to disrupt your bedtime in the evening.

You should also experiment with developing a relaxing bedtime ritual. For example, take a warm shower or bath at the same time each evening, and follow that up with some gentle stretching or try some deep breathing exercises. Turn off all those contraptions that emit blue light like the television, computer, and the phone earlier in the evening and allow time to unwind with a book or relaxing music instead.

Experts say the ideal room temperature for sleeping is about 18 degrees, so keep your bedroom cool and dark. Hopefully you’ve invested in a comfortable mattress, pillows, and high-quality linens so that crawling into bed at night should feel like a  a reward for your training and early morning hours.

You can do some final things to clear your mind: create an easy to-do list for the next day, set an alarm clock (or two!), and have running clothes laid out and ready for the morning run.

Looking ahead to your race, the good news is that research indicates a bad night of sleep before a race does not always hurt your performance. In fact, pre-race nerves contribute to peak performance, so don’t stress over not sleeping well the night before a race.

Lack of sleep may affect your perceived exertion level, though, meaning the race may feel harder on no sleep. Getting quality sleep in the weeks prior to race day is what is most important for performance.

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