Tossing And Turning: Runners And Sleeping Issues

Common Causes Of Sleeping Issues For Runners

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea, generally characterized by abnormal pauses in your breathing rhythm while sleeping, is most commonly seen in overweight, older men (mainly individuals who have thick necks, which narrows the airways when sleeping). However, recent research published in the journal Clinics in Sports Medicine suggests that even a thin neck — those commonly found on gaunt, healthy distance runners, as well as most women — can also be a risk factor for sleep apnea.

Simply speaking, a thin neck provides less room for air to pass through once the muscles relax during sleep. This paradoxical phenomenon may cause many runners with sleep issues to be misdiagnosed, or for sleep apnea to be ignored as a possible cause for sleep issues all together.

What you can do:

Potential cures for sleep apnea are more extensive than this article can cover. However, if you snore, find yourself constantly tired throughout the day, or think you may be suffering from sleep apnea, consult your doctor. Don’t be afraid to voice your concerns. Even medical professionals fall victim to categorizing certain conditions based on genetic or lifestyle factors.

High Cortisol Levels And Increased Body Temperature

Running will usually make you tired, and partaking in the activity often does the trick for most people who suffer from sleeping issues. However, running too close to bed time can impair sleep, mainly due to elevated cortisol levels and increased body temperature.

Cortisol is a hormone produced by your adrenal glands that increases blood sugar levels, suppresses the immune system, and aids in fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism. Cortisol is normally highest in the morning and then slowly lowers itself throughout the day. However, hard workouts elevate cortisol levels (and can keep them elevated for up to 9 hours post workout), which can wreak havoc on an athlete’s sleep cycle.

RELATED: Cortisol And The Runner

Likewise, running elevates your core body temperature, even if it’s cold outside or you’re not running particularly hard. It can take 4-6 hours for the body to cool back down to a normal temperature after running. This prolonged increase in body temperature will delay the transition to deeper sleeping patterns.

What you can do:

  • *Try to schedule your run so you finish at least three hours before going to bed, especially if you are the type of person who becomes more alert with exercise. The further away from bedtime you can run, the less likely you are to suffer from these issues.
  • *Develop a routine and stick with it, even on weekends. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning. Set and maintain a sleep schedule. “Sleeping in” on the weekends will make it harder to wake up on Monday morning because it resets your sleep cycle.
  • *Likewise, develop a relaxing routine before bed. This may include a warm bath, light stretching, listening to soothing music, reading or other low stress activities.

Low Blood Sugar

Low blood sugar levels, which are common in runners, may also lead to a lack of deep, consistent sleep. Simply speaking, when your blood sugar drops below a certain level, cortisol is released (see above) and the surge in adrenaline forces you to wake up feeling hungry.

In addition to disturbing your sleep, low blood sugar levels will keep your body in a catabolic state throughout the night instead of the anabolic process that is critical to repairing muscle damage incurred through training.

What you can do:

  • *Don’t go to bed feeling hungry, but don’t eat a big meal right before bedtime, either. Try eating some cottage cheese, which contains casein, a slow-digesting form of protein, or a drinking a protein shake before bed.
  • *Try not to drink fluids at least two hours before bedtime as a full bladder can interfere with sleep.
  • *If you do get up during the night, do not expose yourself to bright light. Intense light can reset your internal clock and make it harder to get back to sleep.

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