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Study: how does lack of sleep affect running performance?

New research suggests runners should have a "sleep intervention" before increasing the intensity of their workouts

Sleep is one of the easiest ways to improve athletic performance, a fact that has been proven again and again by exercise physiologists, athletes and coaches. Unfortunately, many runners still don’t get enough sleep each night, and so are missing out on an opportunity to perform better in workouts and races. If you’re still not convinced that sleep is all it’s cracked up to be, yet another study has demonstrated the detrimental effect lack of sleep has on running performance, this time by decreasing participants’ “readiness to perform.”

Should you train after a bad sleep?

Athlete fatigue and readiness to perform

The study, published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, aimed to monitor the effects of sleep extension and sleep deprivation on endurance performance against heart rate indices like resting heart rate and heart rate variability. To do this, the researchers had nine athletes perform time trials on four consecutive days. They slept habitually before the first, but for the remaining three, they either had their sleep shortened by 2.5 hours, lengthened by 2.5 hours or remain normal.

The athletes who slept longer ran faster during their time trials compared to the group with normal sleep, but their rates of perceived exertion were lower. In other words, they performed better and it felt easier. Unsurprisingly, the athletes whose sleep was restricted showed a decrease in performance while their rate of perceived exertion went up — they ran slower, and it felt harder.

“Intensity ratios incorporating mean HR (heart rate) seem sensitive to effects of sleep duration on athlete readiness to perform,” the researchers concluded.

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In their conclusions, the researchers added that when determining the intensity of your workout on any given day, it’s important to consider how long (and how well) you’ve been sleeping in the nights leading up to your workout. If you’re chronically lacking in sleep (i.e. getting less than seven to nine hours each night), you should consider a “sleep intervention” before increasing the intensity of your training.

Remember that not only will adequate sleep improve your performance in runs and workouts, it will also give your body a chance to recover properly so you have a lower risk of sustaining a running-related injury. If you’re having trouble catching enough z’s, check out these tips to get a better night’s sleep.