MarathonMaiden's Blog

March 27, 2010

I Got Nothing. Including Sleep.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — marathonmaiden @ 19:27

Writer’s block maybe? I’ve just spent so much energy this week on school stuff that I am spent.  Not sleeping due to the exam then not sleeping due to Relay = exhaustion.  I’m sure many of you can no doubt relate.

Relay was fun as always.  Since it’s still early in the calender year my school holds Relay in the field house.  Some years it’s a bummer because we do get a nice evening.  Last night the low was 16*.  Smart call planning committee.  I did get there late (annoying because I’m on the planning committee!) but it was still fun.  There are games, contests, performing groups etc.  Very fun.

And yet still tiring.  Since I’m a person that cannot sleep when the sun is up (so no naps for this chica ever) I couldn’t go to bed after the event was over.  So what did I do? Run. Duh.  Or tried too.  The combo of stress + no sleep + week 4 of training proved to be too much and I *struggled* hardcore.  I don’t think that my recent shin tenderness (read: not an injury. Please keep that in mind people) helped too much either.  So I cut the run short.

Not much to say on it .  Very upsetting but I know that so many factors went into this bust of a run.  And my rational brain can know this but my heart aches over it.

I’m sure the biggest contributing factor is the lack of sleep.  I slept maybe 3 hours a night this week (thank you quantum! and thanks for your awesome words about me being done with the exam.  And unfortunately 20+ hours is the norm for upper level physics and math classes.  Which is why I roll my eyes when humanities majors complain haha!) and when I did get some sleep it was restless (thank you allergies!).  I’m feeling a bit crabby and emotional today, just because of not sleeping. In fact, despite not really having a solid relationship with my mom, when I called her about something small and then started balling she decided to drive down and take me out tonight.  And she should be here soon.  So I’m not proof-reading this. Oh well. Such is life sometimes.

But sleep is REALLY important.  So rather than bore you with more woe-is-me tales here’s a little blurb I wrote a very long time ago but never got around to posting, originally titled: Poppies Will Put Them To Sleep. Sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep

It’s definitely something that most people don’t get enough of.  Between really hectic work/school schedules and social obligations (aka my drinking on school nights during the semester haha) it’s really tough to get in a training regime nevermind unwinding with a good book, bamf television show or unwinding in some capacity. I think I’ve read that the average American sleeps only 6 or 7  hours a night which is a reduction of 1-2 hours in the past 20 years and a more significant reduction compared to 100 years ago (the exact figure escapes my mind).

But sleep is really important.  The average person sleeps for about a third of his or her life! Sleep deprivation is associated with many dangers both psychological and physical (and behavioral.  Who wants to be around a cranky sleep deprived person?!). Sleep is actually an active process and not just the absence of being awake: when you sleep there is all your neurons are firing at full force and hormones being released, so it’s kind of like being awake but the difference is the change in type of activity that the neurons are doing.  Sleep is for the brain and that is reflected in said change in activity.

When you’re awake the important things that the brain directs neurons to do are: breathing, keeping you’re heart beating, digesting, movement.  You know the stuff that keeps you alive. But when you’re asleep the brain directs neurons to heal. The exact reason / mechanism we sleep is unknown but there are a couple of proposals that are suggested such as:

  • Releasing hormones, specifically growth hormone (GH), which repairs muscles and replaces dead worn out cells. This includes the immune system.
  • Allows the brain to repair itself from icky by-products built up during the day that it couldn’t get rid of because it was so busy.  Our muscles, for example, just make new cells to replace damaged ones but the brain doesn’t regenerate itself so damage must be cleaned up.
  • Lets the brain play “catch-up” and restore the energy sources in the brain that have become depleted during wakefulness.
  • Sleep allows neural pathways to regain sensitivity.  When we’re awake our neurons are constantly being attacked by neurotransmitters (NT).  This is a good thing because NTs direct the brain signals to muscles, organs etc  but over the course of the day the neurons themselves become desensitized to NTs and sleep resets that.
  • Learning and memory.  Some researchers believe that sleep is important in allowing the body to accommodate the chemical and structural changes needed to create memories.  For example infants need LOTS of sleep and their brain are in a state of change because they’re growing and older people’s brains are pretty much set up structurally and don’t need as much sleep.
  • Integrating daytime experiences. Life is so complicated and there’s only so much information that the brain can catch the first time around.  Sleep might be the chance where new pathways are connected between information.  “Sleep on it” anyone?

But how much is enough?

The common number thrown around is 8 hours – although there is no magic number.  Like amount of food needed each day and how fast you can run everything is individual.  For athletes more is needed and I’ve heard that for runners you need one minute for every mile per week you run extra.  Personally I’ve always needed 9 hours to function and feel my best.  Unfortunately I *can* get my body to adapt to less (remember those weeks last semester where I was only sleeping 4 hours a night?) but I don’t feel my best and my mental sharpness — while not gone — isn’t quite there.  I feel a bit off.

I’ve read (but never had the time to actually do this) that to determine the amount of sleep that’s right for you is to basically take a vacation, not set an alarm and sleep.  The morning when you wake up feeling refreshed (not sleep hungover like the first few days will likely be) then you’ve found your number.  Unfortunately many of us sleep-deprived people don’t have the time to do this.  Otherwise we wouldn’t be sleep deprived already!

What does this have to do with running specifically?

Well a lot.  If you don’t have enough sleep then you’re going to feel tired.  Duh.  And then you can’t get the maximum out of a workout.  I can’t even imagine running a hard tempo on very little sleep (although I’m sure I’ve done it).

There’s also the little factor of GH, which I mentioned above. It stimulates growth of muscles ie) it increases muscle mass.  As an athlete this is something that we want because when our muscle mass increases we become stronger and can lift more weights or run faster.  And who doesn’t want that? If you shortchange yourself on sleep then repairing your muscles will take a long time and you’ll need a longer bout of recovery time between hard sessions.

The take home message?

Sleep is good and necessary.  By skimping on sleep people are skimping on their health.  For an athlete, not only is health involved but performance is affected too.  Runners are typically very driven people so why allow a controllable factor to handicap maximum achievement?

And check out this giveaway from Evan and one from Sophia



  1. Aw- that’s sweet your mom is coming to visit to brighten your spirits! Have fun!

    And your post on sleep makes me feel really really good about me just waking up from a nap about 30 minutes ago… 🙂 Nap justified!

    Comment by Amy @ Second City Randomness — March 27, 2010 @ 19:42

  2. First off, I meant to say congrats on getting through what sounds like a beast of an exam. Reading about it gave me really awful flashbacks to mammalian physiology a year and a half ago. We had 4 exams plus a final in that class. He’d give us 5 days to do the exams. What I didn’t realize until I was done with the first was that I needed basically ALL of the 120 hours to complete it! There was many a sleepless night (usually I’d also turn to beer, don’t ask, beer helps me focus when doing papers and the like). And when we got our grades back, we’d be THRILLED with anything passing. AUGH!

    Sleep is probably the thing I do worst, training-wise. I’ve always been a night owl, since I was an infant. Dunno why, I just like being awake more than I like being asleep. That said, once I GET to sleep, I have no problem staying that way for hours and hours. Problem is I don’t get that luxury during the work week. I keep telling myself, “this will be the week I go to bed EARLY!” but I keep failing (though I’ve gotten it to pre-midnight most days a week now, which is more than a small victory).

    Comment by runningmanz — March 27, 2010 @ 19:45

  3. Good post, and well said. I think sleep is so often overlooked. And, as a person who needs more sleep than the average person, I always have to really make it a priority because I cannot function on too little. I’m sorry that life is getting in the way of you getting enough! I hope you have a nice evening with your mom. Even if you don’t have a perfect relationship, sometimes moms are just what you need after a tough week!

    Sending good thoughts your way! 🙂

    Comment by tmart — March 27, 2010 @ 19:49

  4. That is awesome that your Mom is taking you out..have fun, you deserve it!!! =] Don’t be too down about your run.. you worked rediculously hard all week (and year). You’re allowed one lousy run. Keep your head up, you’re awesome.

    Comment by Mary (Food Fit & Fun) — March 27, 2010 @ 20:08

  5. This is an EXCELLENT post!

    And girl you deserve to vent! You really do put way too much pressure on yourself – your NORMAL girl…you do ALOT – more than the average College student. And you have such high standards set for yourself – I love that about you!! – I respect that so much…but remember that you are LOVELY and just right no matter what you do…

    Sleep. I haven’t slept more than 3 hours for a long time now. Yep. Sporadic. Leads to alot of distress, overeating , over major crapola…

    AND stop letting a down run get you down! Do you realize how LUCKY you are to be able to run?! Seriously. NEVER EVER EVER take that for granted please. NEVER.

    Running is not something that should be perfect or good everytime you get out there. It teaches you things. So what if there are bad days? That’s life.

    It is a privelige. Respect it.

    Take care girl.

    Comment by eatmovelove — March 27, 2010 @ 21:29

  6. re: feeling crummy, Julia Lucas (pro runner, writes a cool blog that I have linked up) said in a post a while ago that she knows she’s training right when 1/3 of the time she feels fantastic, 1/3 of the time she feels okay, and 1/3 of the time just feels awful. sucks, but you gotta have the bad runs to have the good runs sometimes! i’m sure you’ll feel brand new when you get a little caught up on the R&R.

    Comment by kristinschleicher — March 27, 2010 @ 22:00

  7. I’m like you – I can’t nap for the life of me! And lack of sleep is DEFINITELY a legit cause for a craptastic run. As a matter of fact, I would love to take this opportunity to blame lack of sleep this last week + last night especially for this mornings first 7 miles feeling overly difficult. 🙂

    Friday confessional here (a day late I suppose…) – I’m still taking a sleeping pill every. single. night. Otherwise it feels like I just don’t “get tired” . Stillll something I need to talk to the doc. about!

    Comment by Erika (Dr. TriRunner) — March 27, 2010 @ 22:04

  8. Sorry about the shitty run; it happens and you will bounce back tomorrow.

    I like 9 hours, but that rarely happens. During the week I get about 7 and on the weekends I get about 8, sometimes 9.

    Comment by Matt — March 27, 2010 @ 22:20

  9. oh my god, Karyn, I was thinking the EXACT SAME THING this week….wow, sleep is SO important! I had a few consecutive days of sleepless nights, too…and by the third day, I could barely function. My mind was whizzing out, and my body was literally like jell-o.

    Comment by sophia — March 27, 2010 @ 22:43

  10. You hit the nail on the head. Sometimes our rational selves give way to the emotional side. We know the reality (subpar run due to lack of sleep) but that doesn’t help the psyche. Look forward to your next run and it will be a distant memory.

    Comment by A Marathoner — March 27, 2010 @ 23:41

  11. Sorry you had a disappointing run, it’s so frustrating, even when you can be rational about it I know. Hope you have fun with your mum 🙂

    Comment by Laura — March 28, 2010 @ 03:15

  12. SLEEP. FOOD. EXERCISE. The trifecta of health, because when you have all three, you have BETTER RELATIONSHIPS, BETTER COGNITION AND MEMORY, and BETTER RESILENCY. The best way to torture someone? Deprive them of sleep.

    REST up!

    Comment by specialkphd — March 28, 2010 @ 10:56

  13. excellent post!

    i get so mad when my job basically FORCES ME not to get sleep. in the health care field . . . and yet i don’t get to get the benefit of sleep for my OWN health! oh well, it’s temporary.

    ps: if you are still thinking med school, get ready for a lot of sleep deprivation. although it sounds like more regulations are being placed so maybe it will be a bit better!

    Comment by sarah (the SHU box) — March 28, 2010 @ 18:41

  14. I wish I didn’t need to sleep so much. There are many other things I’d rather be doing. How many hours are you getting?

    Comment by Jess — March 28, 2010 @ 18:58

  15. I was thinking about this last week – a week that I was getting juuuust a little less sleep than I ideally need. By Friday, the deficit had me feeling like trash. It sounds like you have an advantage in that you know how much you need – circumstances just don’t allow it right now. I just want to smack around the people who swear they only need five hours a night. Shaddup! It can’t be true!

    Comment by sarah — March 28, 2010 @ 21:29

  16. Great post…sleep is so much more important than we think! I find as I get older I need less and less though. I remember sleeping 10 hours but now it’s more like 6-8.

    Comment by Ameena — March 28, 2010 @ 23:01

  17. My sleep pretty much takes priority of everything else. I have never stayed up late doing school work.. I have woken up early though. But really I go crazy if I haven’t had my solid 8 hours of sleep, I definitely notice it in my running performance, and just overall going through the day. My roommate is the complete opposite of me, she goes to bed around 3am every night and only gets about 5 hours of sleep a night- I don’t know how she does it! But like you said everyone is different.

    Comment by BostonRunner — March 29, 2010 @ 14:35

    • I used to be the same way. There’s something about this semester that’s just messing with my sleep vibe! I haven’t gone crazy though…yet haha 🙂

      Comment by marathonmaiden — March 30, 2010 @ 16:50

  18. Sleep? What’s that??!!?? But the best part of not being able to sleep is that you can get caught up on the blog world at 3a.m. Haha. I really have sleep issues and as hard as I try, I can’t sleep well. I think even if I were in some remote tropical beach with no nothings around to distract me, I’d still wake up at 3a.m.; it’s some wicked number that someone planted in my brain at birth: Jill, when you hit age 40, you will never sleep past 3 again. Thankfully this week is spring break so I can go back to sleep for awhile. These allergies are NOT helping matters, either….as I’m sure you can relate! I hope your sleep has returned and you’re resting up for the big day soon :). Hang in there, you’re so amazing!!!!

    Comment by Jill — March 30, 2010 @ 07:50

  19. […] / not having to be at a specific place at a specific time.  Sleep is really important too as I’ve written about before and I’ve been working my way out of a sleep debt.  And I don’t think it’s any […]

    Pingback by How [Double] Running Can Rock: Low(er) Mileage, Shorter Runs & Sleep « MarathonMaiden's Blog — June 7, 2010 @ 15:02

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