I’ve had summers off for just about my entire life. Other than the general beauty of not working, the one thing I’ve always noticed is how much better I sleep. During the school year I would rarely get more than 6 or 7 hours of sleep, and even then I woke up often, checking the clock to see how much longer I had before the alarm would go off, and tossing and turning over some issue at school. Without those concerns, my summer sleep was always much deeper and longer, sometimes even reaching 9 or 10 hours, and I never felt groggy from too much sleep.
When I started running almost six years ago it had a profound effect on my sleep. On the days that I ran, despite worries and stress at school, I almost always slept through the entire night regardless of any issues or stress at school. I also noticed what happened if I ran in the evening and only got 5 or 6 hours of sleep that night. The next day wasn’t pretty. I was grumpy, sluggish, and fog-headed. Poor students.
I’ve also noticed the impact on my sleep when I cut back on running. It’s nice to take an occasional break from running, but I never sleep as well, even when my stress level is low. Sleep is never as deep or nourishing as it is when I’m running regularly. As much as I look forward to the tapering phase of marathon training, and I make an effort to relax and sleep more, I’m rarely successful.
I read an article last week (More Sleep Means Better Performance for Athletes) about a study done on collegiate basketball players who were told to try to sleep 10 hours per day. It was a small study, but it did show gains in each athlete’s abilities. Most of us are happy when we can get 8 good hours of sleep, but I have to say the study goes right along with what I’ve noticed each summer about how I naturally sleep more hours when I’m not working.
My question is: is it the lack of stress and having to work that make my summer sleep so much better, or does a pattern of sleeping more hours in and of itself contribute to better sleep?
Napping is another great way to catch up on some missing sleep, if you’re lucky enough to be a napper. I’m not (and apparently I wasn’t as a child, either). Everyone looks forward to and talks about their afternoon nap after a long run, but I’m rarely able to fall asleep. Even after a marathon, when all I want to do is go straight to bed and rest, I rarely fall asleep. Resting is good, but nothing feels better than a full blown nap.
All I know is, I plan on getting more sleep in the future from now on, job or not. Better running performance aside, I feel so much better in my day to day life with more sleep. I’m able to focus better, have more energy, and I’m a lot less grumpy–which is always a good thing.