Sleep Well, Run Better

Tweak your bedtime habits to sleep like a baby – and wake up raring to go again

by Sarah Ditum

sleep running

Aside from “Run, Forrest, run!” the most annoying heckle a runner must endure has to be, “Blimey! You’ll sleep well tonight!” Unoriginal, unfunny and not even true, because a tiring run is actually no guarantee of a peaceful night’s sleep, says Dr Guy Meadows of the London  Sleep School (

The sleep-disorder specialist and ultra marathoner has worked extensively with distance runners. “They often end up absolutely physically exhausted, but mentally wide awake,” he explains. Here are some of the most common reasons why you might not be getting the shut-eye you need as a runner – and how to adapt your night-time routine to ensure that you do.

Too Much, Too Late

Insomniac runners often dramatically up their mileage in the hope of wearing themselves out,” says coach and RW contributing editor Nick Anderson ( But a classic symptom of overtraining is fatigue coupled with an inability to sleep. Plus, the burst of adrenaline and endorphins that comes with running is not what you need close to bedtime. Meadows advises increasing your mileage by no more than 10 per cent a week, and avoid training within two hours of bedtime.

Action plan: Avoid training 2 hours before sleep

If you do choose to go out running in the afternoon, steer clear of caffeinated and sugary energy drinks, both of which are sure to keep you awake later on. A caffeine-free and electrolyte-rich natural alternative such as coconut water is a more sensible choice.

Too Many Lie-Ins

Running might increase your need for sleep – Paula Radcliffe says she gets 11 hours a night – but that doesn’t mean you should start a love affair with the snooze button. Psychologist Dr Chris Idzikowski, director of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre, advises setting a regular bedtime that allows seven and a half hours’ sleep. This prioritises the quality   of the first two hours’ sleep, when your body releases the most growth hormone1, which promotes muscle development and is thought to encourage fat-burning.

Action Plan: 7.5 hours recomended daily sleep

Though you should avoid eating for an hour before sleep, you might find it easier to adjust to an earlier bedtime if you dine on turkey, nuts or hummus. These foods are rich in tryptophan, an essential amino acid that has a major role to play in ensuring you get a good night’s kip.   

Tossing and Turning

Pre-race nerves can catch out even experienced runners, but if you find thoughts of a longed-for PB are keeping you awake, Meadows recommends the ‘mindfulness’ technique: spend a few minutes thinking about the things on your mind, “then bring yourself back to the present by focusing on your immediate surroundings”, he says. “Having acknowledged the things keeping you awake, you can gently let go of struggling with them.”

Action Plan: Warmer hands and feet = better night's sleep

Make your surroundings as conducive to sleep as you can. One factor is temperature: a study2 found that people drifted off more easily when their hands and feet were slightly warmer than the rest of their body. So best dig out those bed socks.

Count Down to 40 Winks

120 mins before bed: Stop running
90 mins before bed: Turn off TV, computer and smartphone
75 mins before bed: Have a warm bath
60 mins before bed: Finish eating
30 mins before bed: Snuggle down and read a book
0 mins: Time to turn out the lights and drift off

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Discuss this article

 My son who enjoys running for his local community Chiswick and the surrounding borough, is now following the Count Down To 40 Winks.
Posted: 26/01/2012 at 11:44

Ironically I started running to help me sleep better - my legs were always so restless and it became increasingly obvious when I was trying to sleep. I find that as long as I've done a run that day or the day before, I can sleep relatively easy.

Posted: 30/09/2014 at 06:30

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