In a song title “Who Needs Sleep?” made famous by the musical group The Barenaked Ladies, the answer is: YOU DO!
Most of us are walking around sleep deprived as it is, but sufficient sleep is even more essential for those training for endurance events. Intense training and lack of sleep don’t make good training partners. Sleep is the most important factor in the recovery process. It’s when you’re sleeping that your body works to repair muscle stress that had occurred during exercise.
How much do we need? Well, individual needs vary but most would agree that intense training requires between 7 – 9 hours per night. Deena Kastor, American long-distance runner holding records in half and marathon distances gets as much as 12 hour/night during training.
But it’s not just how much sleep but when you sleep that’s important. Our physiology is still the same as our ancient ancestors that lived by the natural rhythms of the sun, moon and seasons. But today we have artificial light available to us 24/7. Light stimulates the release of cortisol, an awakening hormone, that can disrupt our ability to fall asleep on time. The body does its physical repair from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. so the later you go to sleep the less time your body has for tissue repair which eventually will lead to decreased performance, tissue breakdown, and injury!