Sleep and Marine Corps Marathon

With the Marine Corps Marathon coming up on October 25, runners may want to include sleep in their training for the race.  Sleep can be an overlooked factor when it comes to athletic performance. Running takes a toll on the body and sleep plays a vital role in the recovery process of runners. Almost all runners need more sleep, but few are able to get the ideal number of hours every night. Thousands of runners suffer from chronic sleep issues and may not even realize it.

Here are some common sources of sleep issues for runners and tips to treat them from the experts at the Comprehensive Sleep Care Center:

Sleep Apnea

During sleep, the sleep apnea sufferer’s airway closes, causing him or her to stop breathing until he or she awakens for a second or two to take a breath.  Breathing can become labored and stop altogether for as long as a minute. As oxygen levels drop, adrenaline and blood pressure can increase.  Eventually, the desperation for air necessitates a momentary awakening that lasts just long enough for the person to gasp for air to restore the bloodstream with oxygen. He or she then slips back into a shallow, non-restorative sleep. This awakening process can happen often depending on the severity of the apnea.  

While sleep apnea is frequently seen in overweight, older men, research studies have found that a thin neck, often found on healthy distance runners, or a small mouth can also be a risk factor for sleep apnea. A thin neck provides less room for air to pass through once the muscles relax during sleep. This paradoxical phenomenon may cause many runners with sleep issues to go undiagnosed, or for sleep apnea to be ignored as a possible cause for sleep issues.

Sleep apnea is potentially dangerous and common. About 90% of people go undiagnosed and it is easily treatable.

Quick tip:

If you find you snore, are constantly tired throughout the day, or your partner witnessed you gasping for air while sleeping, consider a consultation with a sleep medicine physician.

Running too close to bedtime

Running will usually make you tired and put you to sleep, however, running too close to bedtime can damage sleep.   Elevated cortisol levels and increased body temperature can delay sleeping for hours.  Cortisol is the hormone produced by your adrenal glands that increases blood sugar levels, may suppress the immune system, and aids in metabolism. Cortisol is normally highest in the morning when you need that get-up-and-go energy and slowly tapers down throughout the day. Hard workouts or runs can elevate cortisol levels, wreaking  havoc on a runner’s sleep cycle.

Quick tips:

  • Schedule your run so you finish at least three hours before going to bed, especially if you tend to become more alert with exercise.
  • Have a routine and stick with it seven days a week if possible. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning, so that your sleep cycle stays on rhythm.

Low blood sugar

Low blood sugar, often common in runners, may also cause a lack of healthy, rejuvenating sleep. If your blood sugar drops below a certain level, cortisol is released and the surge in adrenalin causes you to feel hungry.

Quick tips:

  • Don’t go to bed feeling hungry. Eat something light and healthy with protein if you are hungry before bed
  • Don’t drink fluids at least two hours before bedtime
  • Avoid alcohol after about 7 p.m. and limit the amount
  • Do not expose yourself to bright light or blue light of screens such as tablets, cell phones, or the light of the TV. This may reset your internal clock and make it harder to fall asleep or return back to sleep
  • Limit non-sleeping time in bed.  Reading, writing, eating, texting, talking on the phone, surfing the web, etc. should take place outside the bedroom so your body associates your bed with rest

Eat healthy

Think about the food and beverages you consume throughout the day if you have trouble sleeping. In addition to not going to bed hungry, you should closely examine the quality of your food.

Quick tips:

  • Focus on a healthy diet that is absent of unhealthy fats. Healthy fats are good.
  • Avoid caffeine as it acts as a stimulant in the late afternoon and evening. Caffeine sources include some soft drinks, coffee, chocolate, non-herbal teas, some pain relievers and diet drugs. Caffeine can stay in your system up to 14 hours

What to do the night before the big race

Finally, another major issue for runners who suffer from sleep issues is stressing about not sleeping, especially before a race or marathon. Try to relax about your sleep issues as much as possible.

  • Before you hit your bed, sit in a comfortable position and focus on your breathing for five minutes to lower your heart rate. Breathe in and out deeply through your nose and into your belly, tuning in to the sound and feeling of air moving through your throat.
  • Mentally “run” the course. Imagine yourself pushing through all the good and bad moments along the way. Most jitters are rooted in the fear of what could happen during the run.
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