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The Things We Overlook That Could Affect Our Sleep Cycles

One expert shares tips—specifically for runners—to get a better night's sleep.

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Sleep is often the one thing people wish they could get more of. Especially when the Center for Disease Control & Prevention has said that insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic. Missing sleep can affect your health in a negative way—weight gain, depression and more—so it is just as important to rest as it is to get in your daily dose of movement.

Shawn Stevenson, BS, FDN is the author of Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success and took the time to talk with us about how runner’s can get a better night’s sleep.

In your book you mention it doesn’t matter if you get 8 hours of sleep—but the time you go to bed does. Can you elaborate?

Timing your sleep is like timing an investment. How much you invest matters, but when you invest can make all the difference in the world. Getting more sleep in the most anabolic window between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. will deliver you greater secretions of human growth hormone (the “youth hormone”), optimal levels of melatonin and enhanced function of reparative enzymes that help to rebuild your body and mind to the highest degree.

Is it better for runners to get their exercise in before a certain time of day to promote a better night’s sleep?

Ideally, you want to make sure that you have at least 3-to-4 solid hours between the time you wrap up your run and the time you hit the pillow at night. This allows cortisol and other stress hormones like epinephrine to return to normal levels as the metabolic waste products can get substantially displaced from your training. Plus, this will give time for your parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) system to kick into gear to enable you to get great sleep and faster recovery.

You say to listen to your gut because the type of food you eat matters. Is there an optimal dinner or snack that can help with sleep?

It’s really about eating plenty of good sleep nutrients on a regular basis so that your body can build up nice reserves to build the hormones and enzymes necessary to deliver you great sleep. Research published in the journal Sleep found that potassium, for example, is very effective at helping individuals to have deeper, uninterrupted sleep. Eating avocados and plenty of green leafy veggies can optimize your body’s stores of potassium.

If you choose to eat a snack closer to bed time, make it something that’s on the lower glycemic end to avoid a sugar spike and a subsequent crash that could happen during sleep (and pull you out of your normal sleep cycles). Your favorite nut butter with veggies is a great late night snack option.

Some runner’s like to sleep in their running clothes to get up easier in the morning for their workout. Is that okay, or are they wearing the wrong thing? 

What you wear to bed definitely has an impact on your sleep quality and health overall. Wearing tight or restrictive clothing to bed can cut off the flow of your lymphatic system which could, over the long run, lead to some significant health issues. Try sleeping in looser clothing or sleeping in your birthday suit. Simply have your running clothes sitting next to you on your nightstand.

Read More:
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