We’ve all been told that regularly getting enough high-quality sleep is essential to running our best – and to living well overall. (That feeling of slogging through a day super tired, when there’s not enough coffee in the world to help? Pretty awful.)
In an article about sleep and exercise on runnersworld.com, we’re told that while we sleep, hormones such as human growth hormone (HGH) that help us recover from training are released. On the flip side, when we don’t get enough sleep, levels of the stress hormone cortisol and the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein stay elevated, cutting into our ability to recover. Poor sleep also throws off the hormones related to appetite regulation, which could lead to weight gain.
OK, so we know all of this. And yet…how many of us truly make sleep a priority? It’s something I’m continually working on, and I figured I’m far from alone. In fact, when I mentioned sleep on the Michigan Runner Girl Facebook page recently, I heard from fellow runners that sleep is a big deal and not always getting the attention it should in their lives. I also heard from a few of you who always get the recommended seven to nine hours a sleep each night, which impressed and inspired me.
On the latest episode of the Michigan Runner Girl podcast, I have a great conversation with Dr. David Walker, DO, a board-certified sleep medicine specialist at the Munson Healthcare Sleep Disorders Clinic here in Traverse City, Mich. We talk about the importance of sleep, night owls vs. early risers, how lack of sleep affects our running performance and everyday activities, common sleep issues, and the ways we may be sabotaging our sleep (drinking that glass of wine or pint of beer, and being on our devices, too close to bedtime). Dr. Walker also talks about how a “sleep diary” can make a difference, sleep aids that are OK (and the ones to possibly avoid), and why the quality of sleep is most important when looking at our sleep routines. I also couldn’t resist asking him about dreams (I have vivid ones most every night) and what they may mean.
Dr. Walker says the National Sleep Foundation site is a great resource. Here’s what the Foundation found about sleep and exercise in their 2013 Sleep in America poll:
Self-described exercisers report better sleep than self-described non-exercisers even though they say they sleep the same amount each night (6 hours and 51 minutes, average on weeknights). Vigorous, moderate and light*exercisers are significantly more likely to say “I had a good night’s sleep” every night or almost every night on work nights than non-exercisers (67%-56% vs. 39%). Also, more than three-fourths of exercisers (76%-83%) say their sleep quality was very good or fairly good in the past two weeks, compared to slightly more than one-half of non-exercisers (56%).
“If you are inactive, adding a 10 minute walk every day could improve your likelihood of a good night’s sleep,” says Max Hirshkowitz, PhD, poll task force chair. “Making this small change and gradually working your way up to more intense activities like running or swimming could help you sleep better.”
“Our poll data certainly find strong relationships between good sleep and exercise,” adds Hirshkowitz. “While cause and effect can be tricky, I don’t think having good sleep necessarily compels us to exercise. I think it is much more likely that exercising improves sleep. And good sleep is fundamental for good health, productivity, and happiness.”
National Sleep Foundation: http://www.sleepfoundation.org
Munson Healthcare Sleep Disorders Clinic: http://www.munsonhealthcare.org/sleep