Making Sleep a Priority - A Commonly Overlooked Training Essential
Life can get crazy, things piling up, fun lasting into the wee hours, whatever the reason it's not uncommon for one of the first things we sacrifice is to be sleep. I'm the queen of procrastination and have been known to say that some of my best work was done under pressure and at the last moment, but no matter what it is that keeps you from hitting the pillow those missing hours of sleep will in the end catch up with you. Plenty of people try to get by on three or four hours of sleep, there is a reason the coffee business is thriving and Starbucks seems to be taking over the world, but not only is that bad for your general health it is even worse for your workouts, especially if you are in training.

For a competitive runner, or anyone who is serious about fitness, being fit and healthy isn't just the time spent in the gym or actually working out but it is also a lifestyle. That doesn't mean you can't have fun and partake in what makes you happy, but it does mean you are at least a little more conscious of all the other 'variables' that maximize your health. That's eating overall balanced and with quality foods, getting in those workouts, being aware of changes in your body like tightnesses or sorenesses so that you can hopefully prevent an injury, and that also means making sleep a priority.

Sleep is perhaps one of the most important aspects of training that gets neglected because people just don't think they have 'time' to sleep or they don't really understand how important it is for recovery. When we are asleep that is the best chance our body has to rebuild those broken down muscles, restore itself, and then come back stronger. The harder you are working out and the more your training load the more sleep you need; neglect that and you will wind up overly fatigued, unable to recover, and then not only will your workouts suffer but you'll be feeling the effects with lack of energy and you will be more susceptible to getting sick.

You hear about the professional athletes who easily can go 10, even 12 hours a night and then even take a nap in between their morning and afternoon workouts; they make sleep a part of their training routine because they know how important it is. Now, not everyone is able to fit in a nap, there are those pesky things called jobs and other life commitments, but that doesn't mean you can't make sure you get the quality sack time you need at night on a regular basis. This will take a commitment and some time management, but it is possible. There are some things we can do to cut down our bedtime routine and morning wake-up so that you can have more time for actual sleep:

* Set a bed time reminder.
Okay, this may sound like you're a little kid, but enforce a planned bed time for yourself and set an alarm 30 minutes prior to that. It's way too easy to get lost on Facebook or some other online site or TV show and before you know it it's 1am; when the alarm goes off start the brushing of the teeth and getting ready to go to bed.

* Lay things out for tomorrow. The night before do all you can to make waking up and getting out the door as fast as possible, that way you can sleep in as late as you can before heading out. If you workout in the morning, have all of your clothes and shoes set out so you can get out the door; similarly if you're going to school or work have all you need packed up and ready to take so you don't have to spend time hurrying around pulling it all together.

* Make your bedroom sleep friendly. What does this mean? Well, it's been shown that any light source can actually make getting that REM sleep harder; even an illuminated computer screen could impede your zzzzz's. You want your room as dark as possible and without any noisy distractions; if you live somewhere with lots of outside noise you might want to think about turning on a fan or you could get one of those calming noise machines...if you like falling asleep to a babbling brook or croaking frogs and it works for you so be it!

* Try to be consistent. Getting into a sleep pattern is the best as the body likes routine. Usually it's easy to stay up later and then sleep in on weekends but ideally you want to get into the same sort of bed time and morning wake-up time every day; okay that's not really all that realistic because let's face it we all deserve to go out and have fun, but aiming for consistency is something to shoot for.

There are ways to get in those hours you need to restore your body with sleep and it's important to make sure you are getting them. The body works off of 90 minute sleep cycles so you want to shoot for intervals that fall in that sequence; minimally you should shoot for 7 1/2 hours and then another 90 minutes would put you at 9 hours. You will feel the effects of lack of sleep in your workouts and just everyday sluggishness; studies show that even after only a few days of missing sleep the stress hormone cortisol spikes and glycogen synthesis begins to deteriorate. Both of these are bad news in terms of your endurance, strength, recovery, and health in general. Another thing is learning that sometimes it's okay to sacrifice a project or other kind of work until the next day to give your body the rest it deserves. Runners and other dedicated fitness folks tend to be a Type A personality, but if you've already gotten an A in a class or something similar it's not the end of the world if you put in less than an A+ effort on an assignment and turn the lights out to hit the pillow.

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