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Why is it so hard for runners to sleep?

By Henry Howard

It’s well documented that runners, cyclists and other endurance athletes need proper sleep to fully cover from their workouts.

We’re all aware that we should be getting seven to nine hours of sleep, depending on our age, natural needs of our body, and stresses related to exercise, life, work and more.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

I’m among the one-third of Americans who don’t get the required amount of sleep to be fully functional, according to the CDC. I generally get six to seven hours, and have my share of nights when I only get around five. When traveling, it’s not common for me to log only three to four hours on at least one night.

There are plenty of reasons why we fall short of the recommendations. But there some ways to improve your odds of getting a better night of sleep, among them:

1. Evaluate your sleep timeline. In order to improve sleep, help your body develop a consistent pattern by going to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning.

2. Ditch the screens. Turn off the TV or laptop, and put the phone down well before you want to fall asleep. I’ve seen various recommendations but generally an hour is a good goal. I don’t watch TV but admittedly am on my phone almost up until bedtime.

3. Make the room dark and cool. The darker you can get your bedroom, perhaps with blackout curtains, the more likely you will be to fall and stay asleep. Same goes for the room temperature. Not cold, but cool, is the way to go.

4. Lay off the caffeine. Everyone has their own threshold of what they can tolerate. Just remember that long after that last sip of coffee the caffeine stays present. According to the Cleveland Clinic, half the caffeine stays in your system for six hours and it can take 10 hours for your body to completely clear it.

Boost your sleep

Sleep is a critical component for everyone, but especially those who are training for events. During our sleep is when the body takes over, heals itself and allows us to recover for the next day.

There are lots of theories and products that can assist those who are lacking in sleep. These suggestions are based on my own research and experience, and not to be considered medical advice. Here are some ways that you can boost your sleep:

1. Melatonin: The hormone helps regulate your sleep cycle. During the day, our melatonin levels decrease. When darkness arrives, our levels increase. Taking melatonin reduces the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. Melatonin is among the most popular natural sleep aids and generally considered safe. However, if you choose to try it, use caution. Read the labels and safety warnings.

2. Magnesium: The mineral, which is present in many foods, can be an aid to sleeping. It also helps your brain and other organs function, while boosting bone health. Here’s how it can help relax and sleep. I use magnesium nightly and it does help me fall asleep. Staying asleep, however, is where I experience difficulty.

3. Weighted blanket: These can generally weigh between 3 and 20 pounds. The extra weight and pressure theoretically provide therapeutic value. Think about it like a swaddling blanket for a baby. It’s comforting and helps the individual relax, promoting the chance for calmness and sleep. This is a good overview by WebMd.

4. Eye masks: I’ve never tried one of these but this may be my next step. The idea is simple: block out light to make it as dark as possible, allowing the wearer to sleep better. The Sleep Foundation offers these recommendations.

5. Smart mattresses: If you have the resources and desire, a smart mattress may be the solution for your needs. The technology is pretty impressive. Smart beds use sensors to gather data about how you're sleeping, then uses it to adjust and improve your sleep. Similar to smart watches, some smart beds collect and share your sleep data to your phone. The Sleep Foundation offers a good guide and some options to research.

For those of you struggling with sleep, hoping that one or more of these ideas will help you get more ZZZZZsssss. For those who sleep well, what tips or suggestions do you have? Feel free to post comments on my social media channels (see my linktree here) or shoot me an email.

Thanks for reading and happy dreaming!

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