Sleep on This

Posted by Filed Under: Health & Fitness, Running Tips

While listening last year to an archived episode of the Phedippidations podcast, host “Steve Runner” mentions that he got a great night’s sleep on the eve of the Cape Cod Marathon thanks to taking the sleep aid Ambien. It was the first time I’d heard of a runner taking a prescription drug to get some zzzzz’s before a big race. Many people, I suspect, won’t risk residual grogginess on race morning from even over-the-counter medication like Tylenol PM.


Bouts of insomnia are common for runners and caused by everything from caffeine and stress to overtraining and pre-race jitters. Sleep also can be compromised by a preoccupation with pre-dawn training runs or a revving evening workout too close to bedtime. Keep in mind that the amount of sleep an individual needs varies greatly; some subsist on four or five hours nightly, while others can’t seem to function well without at least eight.

Exercise often is recommended for the 70 million Americans with occasional or chronic sleep disorders, according to an oft-quoted 1992 National Commission on Sleep Disorders study. (Rest assured the statistic is higher today.) But beware: Running can affect the quality of sleep, just as the amount you sleep may affect your running.

For instance, long runs that leave you dead tired can nonetheless lead to restless nights, according to Devine Sports “Anyone who has run a marathon has probably experienced that supreme fatigue of covering 26.2 miles and yet have extreme difficulty sleeping that night,” according to the site. “Evidently, excessive running over 18 or 19 miles make[s] it difficult to sleep—regardless of how tired you are. The less accustomed you are to doing long runs, usually means the great[er] chance it will affect your sleep.”

Insomnia also can fed on itself, as a recent article in The Washington Post notes. “For the hard-of-sleeping, it’s sometimes a tossup as to which is heavier, the pressure to sleep well or the pressure to do well in the activity being slept for,” notes author Dennis Drabelle, who uses melatonin to help him sleep. “The more you worry about it,…the more power it can exert over you.”


Standard advice, particularly for endurance athletes, is to not expect to sleep well the night before a race. Instead, try to get some good shut-eye two nights before. Devine Sports also offers some tips specifically for runners:

  • Be consistent when you go to bed and when you wake up. Don’t go to bed an hour or two early to catch up on sleep. You’ll likely just toss and turn. You can’t store sleep so don’t try.
  • Don’t drink coffee or alcohol or use some non-drowsy medications before bed.
  • Eat dinner several hours before bedtime. If you want to snack before going to bed, try a carbohydrate-rich, easily digestible food.
  • Don’t nap. If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, avoid taking a catnap which may delay when you’re sleepy enough to go to bed at night.
  • Don’t run or exercise close to bedtime. Give yourself at least three or four hours after you exercise before going to sleep.
  • If you can’t sleep, get up and read or watch TV. Don’t lay in bed for hours. Sleep on a different bed or couch.
  • Turn off your mind. Try not to think about stressful events or duties. You can’t do anything about them now anyway.

About Anne

Anne’s been running for so long that when two paths diverge in the woods, not only she does she know to go for the one with the most foreboding weeds, swarms of bees and steep, rocky climbs, but she convinces everyone else to come along. Then, before people are done cursing and nursing insect bites, bloody knees and poison oak outbreaks, she’ll again run — away. She eschews a lot of the newfangled devices that are supposed to make you a better runner because she believes it’s what you put into your body, not on it, that really matters. (Footwear is the exception.) That includes proper nourishment of the mind, which we all know is what really makes the difference on the road…and the trail…and the track. At some point she started to realize that not everyone has run into an Alaskan grizzly bear, been pegged by police as a robber, lost her shorts in a major marathon, rubbed elbows with Olympians, mistaken movie stars for beach bums and watched a wildfire consume her suburb - yes, while she was on a long run. Whether it’s these unique situations, or the universal ones every recreational runner encounters, after she lives it, she loves nothing better than to write about it at Run DMZ.

  1. Sleeping myths and facts « Run to Win » on March 14th at 12:32 pm

    […] Anne at Complete Running has recently written an article about how to get a good night’s sleep, especially before a big race. She lists a few points, not all of which I agree with. She does mention that it is important to get sleep two nights before and not the night before a race, which I do agree with. Sleep generally affects you about 36 hours later, so the sleep you need for a marathon tends to be a couple days prior and preferably the full week prior. The full list with my responses: […]

  2. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on March 14th at 12:37 pm


    I agree with about half of your list at the bottom, but a few of them I don’t think are very accurate and I flat out disagree with a few others.

    Rather than being long winded here, I responded over at Run to Win: Sleeping Myths and Facts

  3. Jon (was) in Michigan on March 15th at 4:29 am

    I’d say that list is 100% true for me. Especially the napping part. If I nap during the day, I’m up later at night. I suspect this all may vary from person to person.

  4. Linda on March 15th at 12:14 pm

    I have a terrible time sleeping, especially before an event. I found a herbal remedy that seems to work though and I wake up refreshed and NOT grouchy like some other stuff I’ve used.

  5. Anne on March 15th at 1:18 pm

    I think these tips that Devine Sports recommends are based on average people/runners. Obviously if you are used to working out at night and then snoozing soundly soon therafter, you don’t have a sleep issue. Same with eating a big meal immediately before bed. I don’t think they meant go hungry. Most people can eat at 6 and need only a snack before a 10 or 11 p.m. bedtime, if that.

    If, however, you are doing some of these things and not sleeping well, they may be a cause. Like Jon, I can’t nap and not pay for it later. Same with eating dinner at 8 and going to bed at my usual 9 p.m. Just makes me sick and prevents me from sleeping soundly.

    Linda, I hope you’ll share the herbal remedy. I’d like to give it a try before I really need it.

  6. Sleep Disorders Guide on March 30th at 11:43 pm

    Good Night Sleep

    Lack of sleep can result in stress, lack of concentration, moodiness, memory loss, lower motivation and fatigue. It is important to get a good night sleep otherwise it may lead to different sleep disorders. More than eighty percent of people suffering from depression are suffering with sleep problems.

    At present, one of the most common problems is Sleep deprivation. In fact the Better Sleep Council surveyed a thousand adult respondents and discovered that more than 30% of them confessed to not getting enough sleep each night.

    101 ways to get good night sleep

    1. The bedroom should not be too hot or too cold. High temperatures can lead to disturbances in the quality of sleep. The optimum temperature is 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. If the room is too cold, use humidifier or warm blankets.

    2. Don’t discuss about the bills or problems or watch television in the bedroom.

    3. Drinking warm milk before going to bed helps in soothing the nervous system. As milk contains calcium, it works on the nervous system and makes the body relax.

    4. Sleep on back as it allows all the internal organs to rest properly and it is the best position for relaxing.

    Rests of 101 ways are………