When integrating your training schedule into your everyday calendar of responsibilities, it isn’t very often people block out time to get a full, undisturbed night of sleep. Whether you realize it or not, sleep is just as important to your training as the time you spend running or working out — and you have more control than you think over getting the most restful night of sleep possible.
Why Sleep Matters
It is true everyone’s sleep needs vary and, according to Harvard University, you can reveal how much you need by considering your genetics and age. “Even without considering genetics and age, the National Sleep Foundation’s 2008 Sleep in America poll found that many adults are apparently not meeting their sleep needs, sleeping an average of only 6 hours and 40 minutes during the week,” notes the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Their research suggests you can determine how much sleep you need by paying attention to your body’s cues, tracking your sleep patterns and spending some time waking up without an alarm clock. Findings show most adults need between 7.5–8.5 hours of sleep each day to avoid feeling the effects of sleep deprivation.
Not only is a good night’s sleep important for your performance on the roads, trails and track; poor sleep can have consequences in every part of your life. The more sleep you miss, the greater the impact on your cognitive functions. A piece published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment outlines some of these harms. Lack of sleep can influence your attention span and how vigilant you are, and, as you get less and less sleep, your long-term memory and decision-making skills are impaired.
Why Athletes Need That Extra Rest
You, of course, need sleep to generally function; however athletes need sleep to aid with recovery to help avoid injury and increase performance. A piece in Nature and Science of Sleep adds to the list of detrimental effects of sleep deprivation, saying those who do not get enough sleep have more than just their cognitive function affected; there are, in fact, “effects at molecular, cellular, network, physiological, psychological and behavioral levels.”
The National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT) regularly refers to research indicating people who perform a high level of physical activity need more sleep. In terms of running, this means that as you build your volume and mileage during a training season, your body requires more sleep to keep up. “Anytime your training volume increases by more than 2–3%, you need to make sure that you’re getting more sleep and taking more time to rest during the day,” notes the NFPT.
Dressing For Optimal Sleep
As noted above, your age and genetics play a factor in your sleep. While those are out of your control, there are specific variables you can regulate to achieve optimal sleep on a regular basis (and especially during a training cycle when sleep is even more critical). In this case, setting up the ideal sleep environment is key. That involves not only revamping your bedroom, but also making sure you are wearing the right clothes to help regulate your body temperature and assist with recovery.
The National Sleep Foundation notes that your room should be like a cave: dark and cool. The warmer your body is, the harder it is to sleep; your bedroom should be between 60–67ºF.
To keep your body cool enough for the most rest, it’s important to ditch the flannel and wear breathable fabrics. Thanks to evolving technologies, companies such as Under Armour have been developing apparel that not only aids in muscle recovery, but has been found to promote restful sleep. This is why wearing its Athlete Recovery Sleepwear can actually help your rest and performance.
“The time you spend resting and rebuilding between workouts can change your game,” acknowledges Erin Wendell, director, global communications at Under Armour. “So we changed the time it takes to recover — harnessing your body’s natural energy to amp up circulation and help you recover faster.”
Before, most recovery apparel was made to wear when refueling after a run or relaxing immediately after a tough race. Now, you can wear your recovery gear to bed without having to worry about how that extra wear and tear may impact the fabrics or your sleep.