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The importance of sleeping properly for runners

In running, the prevalence of injuries is approximately 50%. This is mainly due to the long distances covered by runners when training and competing, and to the strain imposed upon runners’ bodies by such level of demand. Running is a sport performed on a single plain, unidirectionally, with a high reaction force from the ground, and with our feet impacting the ground 1,200 times per kilometre. 

There are a series of factors to take into account when determining the risk of injuries, such as a good physical, emotional and mental health, a symmetric and efficient running pattern, adequate movement ranges, a runner’s strength, proper footwear and a running philosophy, among others. Today, we will focus on the importance of sleep. 

Sleep is considered vital for human health, and critical for a good physiological and cognitive functioning. In addition, specialists have also suggested that sleep is one of the most effective recovery strategies for athletes. 

During our sleep hours, growth hormone – which is responsible for growth, muscle repair, and bone creation – is secreted. 95% of this hormone is secreted during humans’ deep sleep stage. During this same stage, high neuronal activity is occurring, associated to the consolidation of memory and the learning of motor skills. 

What happens if we don’t get enough sleep?

  • The risk of injury increases: Athletes who sleep less than 8 hours are 1.7 times more likely to suffer injuries than those who sleep more than 8 hours per night, because they are not giving their bodies enough time to recover after training. 
  • Reduction of athletic performance: Failing to get enough sleep will affect an athlete’s speed, resistance, reaction times, concentration, and motor skills. Sleeping over 8  hours has been proven to increase motor skills by 15-20%.
  • Decrease in muscle recovery, repair and growth: As explained above, growth hormone is secreted during deep sleep, and this hormone is responsible for repairing muscles following exercise. Not sleeping enough will also reduce neurocognitive functions, such as memory and concentration. 
  • Increase of the risk of illness: Exercise is a stressor, which will activate hormones to regulate the immune system and metabolic functions. Sleeping less will decrease the protection provided by our immune system, increasing the risk of illnesses or injuries. Additionally, lack of sleep has been linked to increases in depression and anxiety. 
  • Difficulty in maintaining a healthy weight: Less hours of sleep are associated to a higher BMI, as sleeping less will affect the hormones related to one’s appetite and food consumption.

Our bodies will function better if we get enough sleep. With this in mind, below are some recommendations for improving sleep quality:

  • Clear your mind: Before sleeping, write down everything that’s on your mind (any concerns, your “to-do” list, etc.). This will help you reduce your mental workload, and promote relaxation.
  • Screentime: Not using screens several hours before sleeping helps improve your sleep health. The light from various devices – such as your mobile phone, computer, or television – stimulates your brain, preventing you from reaching the level of relaxation required for sleeping. 
  • Lights at your home: Our natural circadian rhythm depends on lighting. Decreasing the use of artificial light as your bedtime approaches, will help you create a proper resting environment and reduce stimulation.
  • Hot baths: Circadian rhythm favours a decrease in body temperature. For this reason, by taking a hot bath or shower, this low-temperature effect is enhanced and this should cause drowsiness. 
  • Your room is a place for sleeping: Use your room exclusively for sleeping and not for working. Ideally, your room should be a darker, quieter place, which is more temperate than the rest of your house, thus fostering your rest. 
  • Schedule and intensity of physical activities: Melatonin is a sleep-inducing agent, which is synchronized with the environment, since it depends on lighting. Therefore, performing high-intensity physical activities when less light is available, is counterproductive for the production of this hormone. Ideally, you should prioritize physical activities during the morning or during the day. 

In conclusion, in order to improve your performance and recovery, and to decrease the risk of injuries while running, you should try to sleep between 8-9 hours per day, and ensure that it is good sleep. We encourage you to follow our advice so you can improve your training and accomplish your goals. 

Author

Paz

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