The Importance of Sleep

I know that the title is a no-brainer, and this isn’t going to be an elaborate post about the physiological effects of sleep deprivation. And those of you out there with young children know all too well how important sleep is. However! As someone who normally averages 8 hours a night (with a preference for 9 if I can get it), I get pretty cranky (and whiny) when I don’t get enough sleep.  For instance, I just survived a 3-day work conference, where I worked 15-hour days and slept ~6-6.5 hours a night. By Friday evening, I was at my limits, mentally and physically. I even warned my colleague that we should stay on lighter topics, just to be safe, or else I might get agitated and explode. (Self-awareness is key in situations like these…)

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So, I awoke Saturday morning still feeling pretty tired, but at least I didn’t have to go run a conference. I stayed in my PJs and cleaned up around the house a little bit, as bt and Cathryn were coming over to watch the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. It was really fun — much more exciting than the Superbowl, in my opinion. 😉 Then they left, and I debated with myself over the next hour and a half whether I should: (a) go for a run; (b) where I should run; and (c) what kind of workout should I do, if any. I finally decided to run a progressive tempo at the neighborhood dirt track, even though it was very warm out. I decided that I couldn’t possibly do this workout on the treadmill; plus, I had watched enough TV for the day. My goal was to run a warm-up mile to the track, then run 3 tempo miles starting at 10K pace (right now ~8:30-8:40?) and running each mile about 10 seconds faster, and ending the workout with a cool down mile. I knew, given my fatigued state, that it would be a struggle. Plus, I hadn’t done *any* tempo work in ages. As any seasoned runner knows, tempo runs, while done at a slower pace than intervals, can be challenging because there aren’t any rest periods. But, given that I hadn’t run since Tuesday, anything would be better than nothing.

The first tempo mile ticked off at 8:37 – right on target. The problem was that I felt like I was already pushing pretty hard and it was only the first mile. It was a miracle, then, that the second mile split came in at 8:29. For the 3rd and final mile, I struggled mightily to bring the average pace down even more, but  8:32 was the best I could do. I’ve heard that sleep deprivation can lower pain tolerance, and I think that was part of the issue at work yesterday, in addition to general physical fatigue.

Then, there was today’s long run. I didn’t have a goal pace or mileage; I simply wanted to spend 2.5 hours on my feet. (After all, I’m supposed to run a trail 25K in Oklahoma in two weeks – which was nicely written up by Cat. #lazyblogger) I felt good early on, since I had slept 11 hours last night. However, the last 4 miles were a real slog. My pace dropped by 30 seconds/mile and I couldn’t stop thinking about food. Mentally, I was in a good place, but physically, it was a struggle to keep moving. I ended up running 13.7 miles, which I’m happy with, all things considered.

In thinking about both of these runs, it was pretty obvious to me the effects of not sleeping well for 3-4 nights. My days at the conference were not that physically taxing; I stayed within a relatively small, indoor area for most of the day and got to sit down whenever I wanted to. Yes, my days were mentally and (at times) emotionally tiring, but also not the worst I’ve been through. So, I can only attribute my crappy runs to lack of sleep. I can only imagine what it’s like for runner parents of newborns and young children – do you just get used to sleep deprivation after a while? Or do you set aside any type of “workouts” and just run for fun? Either way – kudos to those of you who keep running despite not getting enough sleep! You’re a hero in my book.

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Switching topics real quick — there are 2 things I wanted to tell y’all about:

  1. Don’t forget to sign up for the Oakland Running Festival on March 20th! I’ll be there doing the “Run this Town” challenge – 5K at 7:30 a.m. and half marathon at 9:15 a.m. (Yes, I’m crazy.) Save 15% off any race with my code – “JLEE”.
  2. Check out RaceRaves 2.0! There are some really cool new features on the best race review website around, including email notifications telling you when your friends are about to race, if they’ve written a race review, and more! You can also now message other RaceRaves members and label reviews as “helpful”. Join me and hundreds of your fellow runners as a raving lunatic!

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About

Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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7 comments on “The Importance of Sleep
  1. Mike says:

    Agreed! After much experimentation (intentional or not!) with sleep schedules, nutrition and other variables, I reached the same conclusion that sleep is the single most important variable that determines how I’ll run. As long as I can stay above 7 hours I’m fine, but below that things start to get dicey – if not in my daily routine, then certainly in my running. Today’s LA Marathon was a prime example – after a subpar sleep week (we had a conference of our own) I finally managed 7 hours last night, maybe my most ever before a race. And not coincidentally I ended up with my first negative split ever, despite spending most of the past 4 days on my feet. For me sleep is definitely the key, more so than race-day nutrition (which honestly hasn’t proven as important as the “experts” tell us – I’ve yet to take in more than 350 calories during a marathon).

    ESPN.com wrote an interesting piece this past week on the effects of the grueling NBA schedule on its players, with all the travel taking a toll on their sleep patterns. And the data suggest the same conclusion – more frequent injuries, injuries that don’t heal as quickly as they should, and more injuries (& fewer dunks) in the second game of back-to-backs. Some of the most amazing athletes in the world can’t perform as amazingly as they should because their employer doesn’t allow them to rest & recover. It’s why there are legal limits to how long a pilot can fly without sleeping.

    All the parents I know with young children either a) don’t exercise strenuously or b) have a serious case of the forgetfuls. Or both. Certainly there are individuals out there who can manage gracefully in a sleep-deprived state, but research tells us that’s a small number.

    And glad you’re liking RaceRaves 2.0! With 1,000s of reviews (& members!) from all 50 states and nearly 30 countries, and new tools that enable members to message & follow each other, we’re psyched for runners to explore the site and learn how it can make their racing life better. Thanks for the shout-out!

    • Jen says:

      Awesome job negative splitting at L.A.! I’ve had the opposite result a few times previously, where I slept well in the week before a race, but slept poorly the night before, and still came out pretty well on race day.

  2. Naomi says:

    Sleep is everything to me! I have never really been a great sleeper. It’s a rarity for me to get more than 8.5 hrs a night. I have a new rule that if I get less than 7 hours of sleep a night the next day is a rest day, and that’s a non-negotiable for me.

    • Jen says:

      That’s a great rule! Seems like any kind of benefit one might get from training could get nullified by the lack of sleep anyway. Good to keep in mind the next time I force myself to run even though I should probably just sleep!

  3. Grace says:

    Jen…I don’t train per se. I’m living by my old marathon training mantra, which is ‘don’t think, just go.’ I have a vague idea of what I want to accomplish that day and make a stab at it. Sometimes those plans shift depending on how much sleep I’ve had, but generally sleep hasn’t been my limiting factor (because, at night, I just conk right out instead of doing anything else!) – work and time pressure have!

    • Jen says:

      Yeah, I definitely meant to include work and other life stressors as being counterproductive to training as well. Also the difference between the time spent in bed vs. actual sleep/rest.

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