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Confession: I don’t get enough sleep

Sometimes, one of the hardest parts of training can be the one that takes the least effort: sleeping. Allegra explains why even though she knows how important it is, she can never go to bed on time.

Woman stretching in bed as she wakes up

Confession: I don’t get enough sleep.

I like sleep as much as the next person. I’m a morning person, but only because I enjoy mornings, not because I think it’s normal to get up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday.

Before I hired a coach, I prepared for races by doing lots of research online. From studies to news stories; blogs to casual chats with other runners– we all know that sleep is important. I’ve read countless times that sleep is a vital factor in successful weight loss, stress management, and better running. I’ve read it. I understand it. Hey, I even enjoy sleeping. But when 10:30 p.m. rolls around and I’m heading towards bed, I’m still thinking “Well, what if I want to read for half an hour? Or iron my clothes for tomorrow?” Sometimes I do manage to get right into bed… and then proceed to check Instagram and Twitter for the next half hour.

We all know sleep is important. So why do we self-sabotage by staying up too late?

Since my training started in January, I’ve been aiming to focus on sleeping for at least seven hours a night. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot but I usually get around six, so for me, this was a challenge. So far, I’ve managed meet that goal by making small changes like planning meals for the week in advance. Each Sunday, my husband and I make a list and do a larger grocery shop. We take turns cooking, try not to eat too late and make leftovers for a quick lunch for the next day.

One of my coaches achieved a huge personal best this past year at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Leading up to the race, she and I would chat about how she would sleep at least nine hours per night. This undoubtedly helped lead to her PB, but I just didn’t understand how I would ever be able to make that commitment. On nights when I train with my group, I get home at 5:45 p.m., head out the door at 6:15 p.m., run from 6:30 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. and get home around 8:30 p.m. I eat dinner, do dishes, make my lunch, perhaps watch a bit of TV… I’m lucky if I’m in bed before 10:00 p.m. And that’s spending sometimes only an hour and a half with my husband before bed. It’s a tough pill to swallow.

I know people who subscribe to the no-electronics-half-an-hour-before-bed rule so the mind can shut down. That’s a great idea. I’m not there yet– working on it.

The weekends are obviously the hardest. If you have a long run the next day, chances are, the rest of your family and friends aren’t in the same boat. To be honest though, time spent with my family and friends is more important than running.

Having said that, this past month I’ve focused on still having those Friday and Saturday night get-togethers, but just ducking out earlier. I’ve experienced a Sunday morning long run after not getting enough sleep… it’s almost better to forget it and run another day. Running on a tired body makes you feel weak, irritated, and sluggish. In the past I’ve aimed to have fewer drinks than I normally would and just focused on getting around eight hours of sleep. Maybe it meant I wasn’t up to run with my group at 8:30 a.m. So what? If it I can get my long run finished later in the day and still enjoy my life, I’ll take it.

I think the most important thing to remember is that any strides you take towards a better night’s sleep are good. Maybe one night you only get six hours– whatever. You haven’t failed. Just try again the next day.