Ahhh sleep…we all love crawling into our beds after a long day, but do you know why your body needs sleep? What really happens when we sleep?
Our body takes a beating throughout the day, both mentally and physically. Add in the fact that we are athletes, and you can imagine how much repair we need. Sleep is just as important as the miles we run, for without the repair of the structures of our body, we cannot perform at our highest level. Sleep also makes us more alert and better able to concentrate. I am sure we have all tried to perform (either at work or at running) on very minimal sleep…how productive were you? Did your performance suffer?
Making Memories –
As we sleep our body takes short term memories and turns them into long term memories (remember cramming for exams in college and how you forgot everything right after the test…it’s because we missed out on the long term memory making!). Also while we sleep our bones, muscles, and joints take the training from the day and remember it. This is how we become bigger, faster, and stronger. (And of course, remember every crazy minute of the 20 mile run from a few weeks ago). Are you trying to gain flexibility? Stretch before bed…not only does it help you relax before you fall asleep, but your body will remember that lengthened position and over time, increase flexibility.
Hormone Regulation –
Was there ever a time when your appetite was all over the place (other than being starving from that 20 mile run a few weeks ago…I am sensing a pattern)? Regular sleep helps to regulate the hormones that help with appetite as well as growth. Also, being more tired tends to lead to overeating, and thus can contribute to weight gain and/or feeling slow and sluggish. So go ahead and have that burger before bed (not really though…might cause gas and bloating) but be sure you get plenty of sleep!
Quantity & Quality –
Ideally, each time we sleep we should get the right amount of hours and all those hours should be quality (following the specific stages of sleep). We want a restful sleep as well as stay asleep long enough for the body to perform all the actions it needs to. We want to wake up feeling refreshed, alert, and pain free (maybe sore from that 20 mile run a few weeks ago).
So in conclusion, whether you are training for a marathon or training for life, sleep should be a part of the plan!