Ultramarathon Training And The Importance Of Sleep

Written By Sam Heward

Sam is one of the Ultra X Co-Founders. If he's not actually out running, chances are he's busy writing about it (or plotting Ultra X strategy!)

22 February 2019

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

Sleep is one of the most important factors in maintaining our health. It’s just as important as exercise and sticking to a healthy diet. Never have we been more aware of how important sleep is, yet people are getting far less than they did in the past. This is primarily down to an increase in stimulation from things such as phones, laptops and tablets.

To understand sleep, it’s important to understand how it works. There are two basic types – rapid eye movement (REM), and non-REM. Generally these two occur in 3-5 cycles each night.

Non-REM includes what is commonly known as deep sleep or slow wave sleep. Dreaming typically occurs during REM sleep.

Cup of Tea in Bedroom

The importance of sleep

Every one of us has an internal “body clock”. This controls when the body is ready for sleep and when it’s ready to wake. This clock typically follows a repeating 24-hour cycle. This is called the circadian rhythm. This rhythm affects every cell, tissue, and organ in your body and how they interact with one another.

There are all sorts of negative impacts when someone doesn’t get enough sleep. Obvious things such as feeling tired, moody or finding it difficult to concentrate are just some of the basic symptoms, but the effects are far reaching.

For example, studies have shown that those that are more sleep deprived can have a bigger appetite than those that get their 7-8 hours. This is because sleep deprivation can disrupt daily hormone functions and cause a rise in ghrelin (the hormone that stimulates appetite) whilst reducing levels of leptin (the hormone that decreases appetite).

The majority of ultra runners will be training harder than the average individual, and putting more stress on their muscles as a result. This makes it even more important to prioritise good sleep, as it is during sleep that muscles are recovering the best, when growth hormone levels during peak sleep allow tissue growth and repair.

Something which is key to remember but difficult to put into practice is that if you have to choose between training and sleep, sleep should always come first, otherwise not only will your training be negatively affected, but so will your recovery.

Top tips for getting a good night’s sleep

  • Exercise, but not too close to your bed time
  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time everyday. Yup, weekend or weekday, make it constant. Your body does not care if it’s a Saturday or a Tuesday. Remember, Homo sapiens are used to sleeping when the sun goes down and arising when it comes up
  • Make your bedroom dark and stop using any electronic devices one hour before bed. The white light emitted will trigger hormones in your brain to wake up
  • Make your room quiet
  • Aim to have your final large meal at least two hours before your bed time
  • Don’t have any caffeine within seven hours of your bed time
  • Try reading with a dim light for 20/30 minutes before switching off the light

If you do all these things, you should sleep like a baby.

To read further into the importance of sleep, we recommend the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.

Woman Sleeping in Hammock

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