Sleep Pressure

Runners Need Sleep: How to Become a Better Runner in 30 Days

#10 Runners Need Sleep

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I need SLEEP. You NEED sleep. Runners need sleep.


The more miles, the more sleep I need. The more intensity while covering the miles, the more I need sleep.

I sleep at minimum 8 hours a night, if not running. If regularly training at 30-40 miles a week, I require 9 hours. When I am running over 50 miles a week, 10 hours is a must.

At bedtime, my completely dark bedroom is 55-60 degrees, with a white noise machine drowning out any extra night time noises. I wear a heavy duty eye mask and use lots of pillows. An alarm is set on my phone about once a week, to reduce the risk of arriving late for a training run. My phone’s notifications are set on Do Not Disturb until 8 am. And my family knows to not wake me.

I am the odd one. I know. I learned young that the amount and quality of sleep I acquire is unusual.

In high school, I didn’t wake a minute too early. No time for beauty prepping, I was a natural girl with my attention focused on being a healthy, faster runner.

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In college, I would close the textbooks in time for 8-9 hours of sleep.

While raising babies, I suffered. And suffered. Four times over. I rank sleepless nights up there with toilet training and parking lots as my top three reasons I am not doing that again.

Overtraining was not the reason for a deep slump in race performance in my 30’s, it was the late nights up trying to complete my long list of tasks before the next day piled on more. Who was I kidding, I couldn’t do everything and be there for everyone. My low hours of sleep resulted in under-recovery, setting me up for failure.

Unlike what seems to be the norm of 6 hours of sleep a night, I CAN NOT OPERATE on only 6 hours. I will be a mess. I get sick within 1 or 2 nights. I get angry and frustrated. It is not pretty.

Waking up before 6am is reserved for only absolutely necessary situations. I mean really necessary.

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I once attempted to become a coffee drinker, it was to reduce my chocolate intake (I know, funny haha). I failed within a week. Turns out a cup of coffee in the early morning keeps my eyelids wide open at midnight.

So this full night of sleep thing is a must. NO chance to escape the wrath of less sleep. I HAVE TO SLEEP.

I used to hide my need for sleep, thinking that it made me look lazy. If I remarked about only getting 8 hours of sleep and not my last needed 9th hour, the princess and pea tale echoed through heads. Ashamed, I would worry that I was not strong enough to conquer tiredness. What kind of supermom, superwoman am I that I need so much more sleep than others?

Many lessons later and a book filled with research, I see I am not so odd. I am actually healthy because of my dedication to sleep. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, PhD, Director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Human Sleep Science, lays out the science behind sleep and the body. This is must read for everyone. I will say it again. Please read this book! In fact, it is so important to me that it is apart of my son’s biology curriculum. You spend a quarter to a third of your life sleeping, know why your body demands it.

Here are a few of my takeaways from this book. Please don’t stop learning about sleep after reading the following quotes and my list for you. The book explains the research so well and it can change your life and your running. Become an expert sleeper!

Quotes from Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker PhD:

“Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer.”

“Too little sleep swells concentration of a hormone that makes you feel hungry while suppressing a companion hormone that otherwise signals food satisfaction.”

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“Tragically, one person dies in a traffic accident every hour in the United States due to a fatigue-related error. It is disquieting to learn that vehicular accidents caused by drowsy driving exceed those caused by alcohol and drugs combined.”

“There does not seem to be one major organ within the body, or process within the brain, that isn’t optimally enhanced by sleep (and DETRIMENTALLY impaired when we don’t get enough).”

From a study in Edina, Minnesota in which the school’s start time was changed to about one hour later in the morning, the high school students yielded a higher SAT score, “investing in delaying school start times-allowing students more sleep and better alignment with their unchangeable biological rhythms- returned a net SAT profit of 212 points.” Sleep equals better brain function and memory. Not just for teens but for ALL AGES.

“When your children finally reach their mid-twenties and your car insurance premium drops, you can thank sleep for the savings.”

My list for you:

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  • SAY NO to Caffeine. If you can’t, then realize you have an addiction to take care of.

  • SERIOUSLY stop using your computer and phone after 7 pm. Change your routines in order to accomplish this.

  • Wake up without an alarm clock, if you can’t do that on most mornings, you are NOT getting enough sleep.

  • Stop using the MAKEUP SLEEP method. It doesn’t work. You can’t makeup sleep!

  • Driving while not getting enough routine night sleep hours is VERY DANGEROUS.

  • The first hour and last hour of your sleep are very important. Cutting one hour off is so much worse than you realize. Each hour of your sleep has a purpose. Your brain completes certain tasks each hour, each one vital.

  • Californians in the Western Time Zone have it much easier when it comes to tempting TV shows (like football games) that are broadcasted earlier in their day versus the Easter Time Zone that requires you to stay up way past your bedtime in order to see the final play or scene.

  • Let your children and teens sleep.

  • Sleep is not just for the growing years, it is vital for your health also.

  • Know the basics of sleep, NREM, REM, circadian rhythm, melatonin, sleep pressure (one of my new favorite terms to express my feeling of tiredness)

  • If you take a sleep aid or melatonin to fall asleep, you need to read this book to understand the choice you are making.

  • All these choices affect you as a runner and person. Choose to train as a well-rested runner.

  • FYI - This book is available in audio format also!

    This list is long and can feel overwhelming, however, the first step in change is knowledge. Request the book from your local library or download an audio version (the author actually prefers for you to listen to it while falling asleep) and understand more about your brain and sleep.

why we sleep runners sleep running coach shelly Minnesota
why we sleep runners sleep running coach shelly Minnesota

Take one step at a time progressing towards being a healthy, knowledgeable sleeper. Prioritize sleep and turn in early (for you) tonight, it just might change your life tomorrow.


If you think that you can sleep only 6 hours and that be enough, think again…..

why we sleep runners sleep running coach shelly Minnesota
why we sleep runners sleep running coach shelly Minnesota

This 30-day series is a quest for me as a writer, coach, and runner. I promise to write about running for 30 days in a row. In doing so I intend to gain in knowledge and expression of running and daily life. My hope is that we all grow together.

Additional Link to Teens and Sleep Article