The importance of pre-race sleep

Do you struggle to to go to bed early the night before a race? If your next event involves an early start, training early can help you become accustomed to running early. But in the tune up to race day, it's also important to get quality sleep. Just like so many other aspects of marathon training, you will need to experiment and see what works best for you.

There are a variety of sleep strategies you can try, but first, figure out just how much sleep you need to have each night. If you are uncertain, use the general recommendation of seven to nine hours a night.

Next, be consistent with your sleep pattern. This means going to bed and getting up in the morning at the same time. As the race approaches you should vary the time you go to sleep and the time you wake up each morning by no more than two hours, which means getting up early on even non-run mornings.

Put the extra time on non-run mornings to good use. Spend this time stretching, foam rolling, doing core exercises or doing other forms of cross-training to supplement your running. If, or when, you feel like you need to make up for any lost sleep, avoid the urge to sleep in. Plan to nap in the afternoon instead for no longer than 30 minutes so as not to disrupt your bedtime in the evening.

You should also experiment with developing a relaxing bedtime ritual. For example, take a warm shower or bath at the same time each evening, and follow that up with some gentle stretching or try some deep breathing exercises. Turn off all those contraptions that emit blue light like the television, computer and the phone earlier in the evening and allow time to unwind with a book or relaxing music instead.

Experts say the ideal room temperature for sleeping is about 18°C, so keep your bedroom cool and dark. Hopefully you’ve invested in a comfortable mattress, pillows, and high-quality linens so that crawling into bed at night should feel like a reward for your training and early morning hours.

You can do some final things to clear your mind: create an easy to-do list for the next day, set an alarm clock (or two!) and have running clothes laid out and ready for the morning run.

Looking ahead to your race, the good news is that research indicates a bad night of sleep before a race does not always hurt your performance. In fact, pre-race nerves contribute to peak performance, so don't stress over not sleeping well the night before a race.

Lack of sleep may affect your perceived exertion level, though, meaning the race may feel harder on no sleep. Getting quality sleep in the weeks prior to race day is what is most important for performance.