How Sleep Affects Training (With Bonus Infographic!)

Ever dragged yourself out of bed on four hours of sleep and barely been able to make it through a slow run? We’ve all done it, and we all know how sleep affects training. As spring running season draws to a close and summer plans begin eclipsing our run schedule (or WOD schedule), sleep is still important. Sleep brand Casper sent over this infographic (and I’m quoted at the bottom with my favorite recovery tip, which is actually a great way to unwind after a long day). Click on the infographic to see the full size.

Some of the stats were not surprising. Yes, we need 7-9 hours of sleep as adults, but we usually clock 5-7. I can confirm this through my Fitbit data. During a good week, I’ll average about 7 hours a night. Granted, I’m not a pro athlete. They get 10-12 hours of sleep per night. (Serena Williams goes to bed at 7 p.m. That’s not an option when you have kids.)

Basically, if you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll perform poorly and slow your recovery time. All the foam rolling, ice baths, and BCAAs won’t do a lick of good. You’ll have too much cortisol in your bloodstream, which has been linked to lower immune system responses, weight gain, cognitive impairments, high blood pressure, heart disease, and more. Not enough sleep affects training – and everything else – negatively.

Conversely, if you get enough sleep, you can actually reduce your rate of injury. That’s because your reaction times are sharp. Your body has time to repair itself after a demanding workout. You’re less likely to use poor judgment (like loading up the barbell with way more than you can handle) because your brain is clear.

When I don’t get enough sleep, all the coffee in the world doesn’t help. As noted in the chart, my reaction time decreases. I feel like I’m dragging. So here’s what I do to at least attempt to get my 7 hours:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time. My body gets used to rising at 6 a.m.
  • Follow a bedtime ritual. About half an hour or so before bed, I’ll eat a half serving of peanut butter and drink my casein shake. I’ll foam-roll out some tight spots or use my lacrosse ball. I’ll follow that with reading (or TV – fine, I admit it!), a cup of chamomile tea, teeth-brushing, etc.
  • Keep the bedroom conducive to sleep. I try to keep mine dark and not too warm.
  • Own a good pillow. I have a great mattress, but that doesn’t help if I’m sleeping on an old, smushed pillow. I’ll toss, turn, and wake up with a neck ache. Get a good pillow, and replace it regularly.

On the days when I don’t sleep well, that lack of sleep affects training. I won’t be able to lift as heavy or run as fast. Full nights of sleep (or at least 7 hours) mean peak performance.

Right now, I’m training for a CrossFit competition. Yes, I’m getting back into those, and yes, sleep is part of the plan. As the fall half marathon season approaches, I’ll continue to pay attention to this neglected yet critical part of training.l

Sleep affects training
Don’t neglect sleep in your training plans.