This article might make you go to sleep
I'm no sleep expert, but I have done a chunk of reading, listening and learning in the area from a sports recovery point of view recently, so we can really push the importance of recovery in training, and below follows a brain dump of that.
I hope some of it helps, and if it doesn't maybe the long read is enough to send you to sleep anyway...
The average person should be getting between 8 and 9 hours of sleep a night. If you are operating on less than that, but think you feel ok and are 'able to have less', the chances are you're wrong. Sorry. There are very few who can operate fully at less than this, and those are actually afflicted by a genetic mutation.
If the 'average' athlete was to get just 6 hours sleep, their time-to-exhaustion would decrease by up to 30%. To oversimplify this, if you were to run 10km at your 10km race pace after 6hrs sleep instead of 8hrs, you'd be spent at 7km.
Insufficient sleep decreases aerobic output, so the capacity of your muscles decreases. There is also an increase in lactic acid build up when under-slept, along with a decrease in oxygen saturation, and your body cannot exhale carbon dioxide from the bloodstream as efficiently. Your body's ability to cool via sweat and perspiration is also impaired when underslept. None of this is helpful for athletes.
If you normally use an alarm clock, a real simple test to see if you're getting enough sleep is to turn your alarm off and see if you sleep past the normal time. If you do, then you're likely not getting enough.
Sleep and Cortisol
Chronic undersleeping and result in cortisol (a stress-related chemical) spikes, which can lead to impaired immune function and chronic inflammation - both of which are pretty critical to an athlete, from both a recovery/injury and general health/sickness point of view.
Sleep and Mood
You're far more likely to feel glass half empty with a lack of sleep, and the positive mindset is critical in sport, especially individual sports like running.
Alcohol and Coffee
Alcohol is often the most misunderstood "sleep aid" - it's a sedative and sedation is not sleep (even though it feels like it).
Rather than helping you fall asleep naturally, it knocks out your cortex and sedates the brain. In this state, the deep sleep state is often missed out; you remain in a shallower sleep for longer.
This type of sleep is heavily fragmented, and you'll often wake but you won't actually remember waking up. You wake up feeling like you slept through but you actually didn't, so you don't put two and two together.
Booze is also a powerful blocker of the REM stage, which is critical is regulating your temperature, which is in turn critical for good sleep. There's new research suggesting REM sleep improves your motor-skill learning; so without it, you're preventing from those skills being as well learnt after a day of training.
Coffee has a half-life of 6 hours; so having a double shot of coffee at 11am is the same as tucking into bed at 11pm and swigging a half shot and then expecting to go easily to sleep.
Why have coffee in the first place? If you feel as though you can't operate without it, then are you self medicating because of lack of sleep?
Even if you have a rubbish night sleep one night, try and stick with the same sleep time and wake time, to get into a regular schedule.
You can take this further and create a routine for the hour before going to bed, and sticking to it every evening so your body starts to realise it's sleep time.
Apparently, 18-19 degrees is the ideal bedroom temperature. This is cold. If your bedroom is nowhere near this, gradually introduce the change rather than suddenly feeling like you're in an igloo.
Having a nice relaxing bath or shower might sound like a great idea, but can increase your core temperature too much for a good sleep, so try a cooler shower. Ouch.
An obvious one, but it's needed to stimulate the release of melatonin, which helps sleep onset. Artificial light tricks the brain into thinking it's daytime, so will not release melatonin, so you don't get the signal of sleep onset.
You've heard it all before -- but no devices one hour before bed, and this should include bright lights - turn all your lights down too. Invest in blackout curtains too if you haven't already.
Don't read a book on your phone for the same reason. Grab an eink ebook reader, or even better, a real book.
You can also install a "blue light filter" on your phone which reduces the wavelength of light most influential on keeping you awake. I have one which automatically turns on (and changes the colour of my phone screen) at 8pm each night.
Don't fight it
If you are struggling to fall asleep (+20 minutes) (or wake up in the night and then can't get back to sleep), don't stay there. You will learn an association between bed and staying awake, which you need to break.
Get out of bed, and by a dim light read a book or do some Headspace. Only when sleepy, return to bed, so you associate bed with being sleepy.
You don't sit at the dinner table waiting to get hungry, so why wait in bed waiting to get sleepy?
I find myself doing this heaps - lying in bed thinking of all the things I need to do tomorrow. If you find yourself doing this, leave a notepad beside your bed and write a to-do list of the things on your mind. Now you're not going to forget them tomorrow, so you can sleep without worrying.
Sleep Tech / Wearables
If you have a fancy watch or install a sleep tracker one on your phone, whilst there's the argument that the additional digital distraction can hinder your sleep, they definitely have their place in improving sleep if only for the fact it's making you think about it, giving you the motivation to work on and improve it.
If you set your alarm 10 minutes before you have to get up because you know you'll hit snooze, stop it. You're robbing yourself of a quality extra ten minutes. Instead, sleep undisturbed for those ten minutes and get up when your alarm goes off the first time, ten minutes later.
If you feel rubbish waking up, just open the curtains - the sunlight will drag you out of the groggy state pretty quickly.
Food for sleep
There isn't a heap of research in this area, but what is known is that a high sugar, low fibre diet leads to worse sleep. But that's not surprising.
Try and time your last meal at least 3 hours before you go to bed.
Weight control and sleep
There's a strong connection between sleep and weight control. Put simply, under six hours sleep and your critical appetite hormones go crazy.
Two appetite hormones; Leptin and Ghrelin have a lot to answer to. Leptin tells you you're satisfied, no longer hungry, whilst Ghrelin says you're not full yet, so eat more.
Short sleep blocks leptin, so you lose the food satiation signal, and at the same time, Ghrelin is amplified by lack of sleep, so you now gain a strong signal of hunger, simply because you're tired. This imbalance also makes you lean towards heavy foods like heavy carbs and sugary foods, so not only do you eat more, you eat rubbish.
As well as making you eat more, if you're trying to manage your weight, lack of sleep actually results in your body giving up muscle and holding onto fat. Damn it!
Why do we sleep?
The easy go-to answer might be something along the lines of "to feel energised" or "to rest and recovery", but the benefits go way beyond this. Your physiological and psychological processes are affected by sleep; your cardiovascular health, your stress hormones, your blood sugars and memory formation.
We're all guilty of undervaluing sleep - there's a long formed myth that in order to be more productive in life you need to give up on some sleep so you can fit more in, but the truth is sleep is critical in being productive in your waking hours.
We have recently integrated with Garmin Health and can now analyse your sleep and stress data to ensure you're doing the right training at the right time.
If you've plateaued or wanting to get to your next level in your training, this could be the simple thing holding you back.