5 ways your sleep habits affect your training

This content has been created in collaboration with New Balance.

Sleep. We all know we need more of it, but few understand just how damaging a lack of kip can be to your health and fitness. Here, self-confessed night owl and New Balance ambassador AJ Odudu (@AJOdudu) outlines the five key ways lack of rest affects your running.

1/ Running performance

Regularly tossing and turning when you should be enjoying a warm embrace with the sandman will, of course, negatively affect your running. But a single sleepless night actually has remarkably little physiological effect on your body. The battle is in your brain. 

Force yourself out on a run and, even extremely sleep-deprived, you’ll be able to keep up with your sprightlier self. But your run will certainly feel more difficult psychologically. “When I have 8 hours sleep, I perform better,” says AJ. In short, don’t let a night of insomnia derail your training; just ensure you aim for nine hours kip as reward for sticking to your schedule. 

2/ Cravings and diet

It’s not just your willingness to train that severely dips when you don’t get enough sleep. Your brain’s ability to make healthy food choices also falters. Fatigue affects the delicate balance of microbes in your gut, causing both inflammation and unhealthy cravings. 

When she’s managed to get a full eight hours, AJ says, she doesn’t find herself reaching for the sugary snacks. If you do succumb to the lure of the white stuff, right your nutritional wrongs by eating a sleep-inducing snack a couple of hours before bed. Almonds, milk, yoghurt and cottage cheese are all loaded with the amino acid tryptophan, which spikes your body’s production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.

3/ Muscle fatigue and development

Muscle is grown in the bedroom. It’s in between the sheets that your hormones work to build and repair your muscles as you sleep. “If I don’t get enough rest I hurt the next day,” says AJ. “I feel it in my muscles, my joints.”  

When you spend all night in a stare-out competition with the ceiling, not only will you struggle to gain strength, you’ll also face muscle soreness the next day. Forgetting about the fact that you’re sleep deprived will let you perform close to your peak (see above), but if your body is screaming at you slow down your pace accordingly.

4/ Morning energy

As we’ve always said, the perfect time to train is when works for you. A lot of people find that waking up earlier in order to fit in a training run is the perfect energising boost for the day. “Exercise in the morning is like having a cup of coffee, because it increases your levels of cortisol, so you feel much more alert,” says PT Dalton Wong.

But should you sacrifice your morning workout in order to get a few more hours shuteye after a bad night’s sleep? AJ thinks so. “Recovery and repair is just as important as the workout itself,” she says. “Sometimes I’ve booked a class but I’ll forfeit the £20 I’ve spent to have an extra time in bed.” After a poor night’s sleep it’s often best to switch your training to lunch time, fortified by a decent caffeine jolt, to get you through the dreaded afternoon lull.

5/ Evening wind down

While exercise has been proven to give you a boost of energy, it is also linked to improved rest. Another reason not to skip your workout after a sleepless night.

It’s not the workout that keeps people awake, says AJ. It’s the lack of a good cool down. “Once I’ve stretched and cooled down properly for 10 minutes I’m always feeling quite relaxed,” she says. Get out there and get the work done and you’ll avoid falling into a bad pattern of poor sleep and abandoned workouts.

New Balance Toughest Opponent is a story about the battles we have within ourselves. The niggling mind games that play out between our ears that make us question whether to run that extra mile, to lift that heavier weight, or to go forward and push harder, faster and stronger than we did the day before. Find out more at: http://www.newbalance.co.uk/TougestOpponent.

You are your toughest opponent.