Nothing shuts down the joy of running faster than an injury. Knee or hamstring pain, tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and stress fractures are common among runnersMany injuries can keep you off the trail, as you often can’t run through them and may have to take weeks or months off of running. Some injuries may require rehab or even surgery.

Although sleep may not be a part of your running-injury prevention plan, the deep rest it offers helps your body stay strong and makes it more resilient to running’s high-impact stress on muscles and joints.

How Sleep Can Help Prevent Injuries

If you get less than the recommend eight hours’ sleep a night on a regular basis, you may be putting yourself at increased risk for developing a running-related injury. 

In a study of adolescent athletes, sleep was one of the two largest factors for injury risk. In general, the more time athletes spent sleeping at night, the lower their risk of injury. Sleeping eight hours or more each night was associated with a 68 percent lower risk of injury.

Research has found that sleep is essential for restoring the body. It offers recovery from fatigue and works to repair your body and restore energy. When you sleep, your body rebuilds from training, consolidates memories, and can maximize your performance.

Sleep’s ability to help you recover and restore your physical strength can’t be understated, but rest also protects you from injury by maintaining mental sharpness. When you’re tired, you’re not as alert as you could be. But when you get enough sleep, you can be more sure-footed, avoiding missteps and reducing your risk of tripping and falling. You can concentrate more carefully on your form, so you don’t make mistakes that can lead to painful injuries.

If you’re already injured and running through a recovery, sleep deprivation can have a negative effect. When you’re sleep deprived, muscle recovery suffers as a lack of sleep can interfere with your body’s ability to repair muscle fiber. A recent study found that subjects with sleep loss had impaired muscle recovery. Runners who are working through recovery should take extra care to get the sleep needed to perform well.

How to Prevent Running Injuries With Sleep

Injury prevention should always be at the forefront of your running plan, and sleep should be a significant part of it. Use these tips to use rest as a tool for preventing runner injuries.

  • Don’t run through the pain, recover instead. Listen to your body’s cues. If you’re feeling pain while running, you may be headed for an injury. Don’t keep going, or you may make it worse. Find out what’s wrong by talking to your doctor. Consider getting a few extra hours of sleep over the next day or two to help boost recovery.

  • Sleep more than you think you need to. The recommended seven to eight hours of sleep for adults may seem like a lofty goal for some people, but for elite runners or any runner training intensely, even that isn’t enough. When you’re going through intense training or any other activity that puts lots of pressure on your body to perform, you need extra sleep to recover at night. This sleep extension allows your muscles to rebuild and grow stronger. During training, shoot for sleeping 10 hours each night.

  • Focus on sleep quality. Proper form is as important in sleep as it is when running. You can’t expect to sleep well if you’re not practicing healthy sleep hygiene. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine and don’t sacrifice sleep hours for training. Make your bedroom a healthy place to sleep with comfortable bedding that’s appropriate for your needs and a calm, quiet, dark, and cool environment. Banish screen time, caffeine, alcohol, heavy meals, and intense exercise in the hours just before bed, as they can interfere with healthy sleep.

  • Nap if you need to. Runners often have greater sleep needs, but you may not have time in your schedule to sleep 10 hours at night. Although a full night of sleep is best, naps can help supplement rest at night. Consider a midmorning or midday nap to boost your energy and recovery. However, avoid taking naps late in the afternoon, or letting naps go much longer than 30 minutes, as napping too long or too late can interfere with nighttime sleep.

  • Plan for rest days. We all need a break sometimes, both physically and mentally. Incorporate recovery time into your running plan, and make sure you don’t go more than two weeks without a rest day. You may need more frequent recovery days if you’re starting out, especially if you’re pushing through hard training.

  • Talk to your doctor about sleep disorders. Sleep is difficult for many people due to chronic sleep disorders. Insomnia, sleep apnea, and other complications can rob you of the sleep you need to perform at your best, but you don’t have to live with them. Discuss treatment options with your doctor to address your symptoms. Sleep disorder treatments can be effective, including behavioral therapy for insomnia and CPAP machines for sleep apnea.

This article was provided by the experts at Tuck Sleep. Tuck Sleep is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NPR, Lifehacker, Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.

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