Why sleep is the most important part of my training schedule

The ultimate training conundrum: an extra 5 minutes in bed or an extra 5 minutes on the treadmill?

Hands up, who sacrifices hours of sleep for hours of training? I know the triathletes out there definitely do. Even though we are well aware that sleep is the most valuable part of our training schedule, we all seem to set our alarms for ridiculous o’clock in the morning to get those important minutes (or hours) of training in before work. This isn’t exclusive to runners, triathletes or any discipline and I know for a fact that many cyclists out there get up at silly o’clock on a Saturday morning to make it to that club ride.

Without adequate rest, athletes just cannot perform at their best. Fact. Due to the demands that training places the body, more rest is not only recommended, but can contribute to stronger performances in training and on race day. Results showed that after four hours of sleep per night, athletes metabolised glucose less efficiently. In addition, levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, were also higher during periods of sleep deprivation. So, if you are cutting out the most valuable component of your training, you will not perform at your best. Simple.

Who struggles to go to bed early the night before a race?

Whether it’s a 5k, marathon or Ironman, pre-race insomnia is a very common issue. Even the pros get nervous and have difficulty sleeping the night before a race. The added stress of traveling to a race or sleeping in a hotel can also rock your sleeping pattern.

However, I can assure you that one sleepless night before your marathon won’t affect your performance, if you’ve been able to get good sleep the week leading up to the race. In fact, the pre-race adrenaline rush will help you feel alert and ready-to-go for your race. Many racers have set personal bests despite pre-race insomnia.

So, let’s try and sleep more and sleep better during periods of heavy training and before race day. Here is how:

Take out the stress factor

Lay everything you need out the night before the race. Remember the ‘nothing new on race day’ rule. Your race outfit and nutrition should all be items that you’ve tried out in training.

Fuel Up

Eat your dinner a few hours before you’re ready to go to bed. That full feeling does not help when trying to fall asleep. Avoid caffeine & alcohol for at least six hours before bedtime.

Get ahead of the game

Have your pre-race breakfast and snacks prepped and ready to munch. Start winding down early. Have a hot bath, read a book or listen to some music or a podcast. Avoid looking at your phone.

Top Tip: If you have to be up for your race earlier than usual, try to gradually shift your sleep schedule in the days leading up to the race so that you’re going to bed and waking up earlier. That way, it won’t feel like a dramatic change when you try to hit the hay much earlier than usual on the night before your race.

So, the lesson here about sleep is MORE is MORE!

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Back in 2016, Steph swapped her skis for the bicycle and hasn't looked back since. She then joined a triathlon club in Edinburgh, and only a couple of years later came 21st in 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Champs. Since then, she's taken on a number of ultra running and cycling challenges, most notably the infamous 'everesting' cycling challenge. Steph is currently sponsored by Le Col, 2XU, and SunGod.

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