Sleep & Exercise Done Right

Heather J Durocher Health Guide
  • Maybe you can relate. I want to get to sleep at a reasonable time each night. I know I'll thank myself the next morning if I do.

    With a good night's slumber, reaching to turn off the alarm doesn't feel like such an exhausting task - and, most importantly, I can set the tone for a good day by rousing myself early enough to squeeze in a morning run before the daily to-list takes over.


    But too often, it seems, I'm hitting snooze, telling myself I'll run later in the day, a promise not always kept despite my best intentions.


    Here's the thing, though: Aside from depriving myself of the sleep I need to function well with my family and at work, I'm also shortchanging my potential for optimal athletic performance.

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    We all know that athletes, particularly when we're training for a race, need to make rest a priority. We schedule rest days in our training plans so our body - and mind - can recover properly. And the greater the weekly mileage, I've found, the more this rings true (thankfully, I find that it's also easier to fall asleep when I'm logging high-mileage weeks as part of training for half marathons and marathons).


    Indeed, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society, an athlete's nightly sleep requirement should be considered integral to attaining peak performance in all levels of sports.


    "We know from scientific studies that athletes recover more quickly from hard workouts when sleep is sufficient," my running coach Lisa Taylor tells me. "The staple of the ‘adaptation' phase of any training program is really just a good night's sleep."


    And yet, whether we're training for a big event or simply maintaining a consistent exercise routine, it can be tough to know just how much sleep your body really needs. How exactly do you balance everyday life responsibilities and your fitness regimen with your need for quality shut-eye?


    The answer, says Lisa, who is an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Health & Fitness Instructor, is that there's no one-size-fits-all solution.


    "Sleep is one of those lifestyle behaviors that you have to go on faith, so to speak," she says. "We all struggle to get enough sleep and we try to go on guidelines such as eight to 10 hours for teenagers, eight hours for adults ... but we all know ‘super person' types of people who seem to get by with little sleep and they still thrive. I think each person is kind of 'an experiment of one' when it comes to sleep."


    If you don't get much sleep, she suggests comparing a time period when you just definitely commit to getting more and see if you notice a difference. Other ideas to try, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society:


    • Extend nightly sleep for several weeks to reduce your sleep debt before a big race.
    • Keep a regular sleep-wake schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same times every day.
    • Take brief 20 to 30 minute naps to obtain additional sleep during the day, especially if drowsy.


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    While I'm big proponent of just getting up and going for a run, even when your body wants to stay in your warm bed, I do think that forcing yourself to do this when you're overly sleep-deprived isn't helpful. So maybe you do skip that morning run if you're just feeling too darn fatigued. The last thing you'd want it to push too hard and get injured because your body isn't rested enough.


    My goal is both simple and difficult: just go to bed earlier every night. It's simple because I'm in control of making this decision. It's difficult because I seem to always want to do just one more thing before hitting the hay - fill out something for my kids' school, answer an email, unwind on the couch with a movie or magazine and glass of wine - and before I know it, the clock reads 11:30 p.m., midnight or (ugh) later.


    But I'll keep trying. With my second marathon just a month away, I of course want to feel as prepared as possible. Life will always be busy, but I need to commit to good sleep just as I commit to solid training. The way I see it, the long-term health benefits just can't be beat.

    How do you balance sleep with exercise and life?

Published On: September 19, 2011