How to Improve Sleep Quality for Runners

Sleep quality for runners is essential to our recovery. The physical stress of running means that your body needs more rest than those who choose a different lifestyle. As you increase your weekly mileage quality, restful sleep becomes even more important.

As runners, we really can’t afford to be sleep deprived.


Why Sleep Is Essential for Runners

Quality sleep is one of the most important recovery tools in our arsenal. By “quality” sleep, I’m referring to the deep REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which helps facilitate muscle recovery. While we’re in REM sleep, blood flow to the brain decreases and is re-routed to our muscles for repair. As we get into a deeper sleep, Human Growth Hormone (HGH), naturally increases and helps rebuild and strengthen tissue damaged from training.

When we’re in a state of chronic sleep deprivation, HGH levels decrease and our bodies simply can’t keep up with the recovery demands. This is one reason why sleep is so important for runners. Additionally, too little sleep increases cortisol production levels and other stress hormones, which promote weight gain.

Want to avoid weight gain during training? Be sure to get enough sleep.

How Much Sleep Do Runners Need?

The general recommendation for adults is 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. This number jumps up in the range of 8 to 10 hours of sleep for runners.

You might think you can function on just 5 or 6 hours per night, but have you tried sleeping for a full 8 hours a night? You might not know how good you’re supposed to feel, and could feel throughout the day if you had a full night of rest.

In case you still had a double in your mind about how important sleep is for recovery and performance, most professional athletes get around 10 hours of sleep.

9 Tips for Runners to Improve Sleep Quality

1. Limit caffeine consumption.

Enjoy a couple cups of coffee or tea in the morning if that brings you joy (I love my morning tea!), but cut the caffeine off after noon. By using caffeine to help you get through the afternoon, you may be unknowingly prolonging your bedtime.

2. Don’t run within 2 hours of going to sleep.

When we run, we increase our heart rate. An elevated heart rate makes it difficult to fall asleep. By running in the morning or afternoon, it allows your body enough time to cool down and your heart rate to drop before bed time.

3. Limit evening alcohol consumption.

I’ll be honest, sometimes I’m guilty of violating this rule. I love enjoying a good glass of wine to wind down in the evening, but I have to curb this habit to rare occasions so it doesn’t impede my sleep and recovery. While it’s true that an evening drink might help you relax, you will pay the price in the early morning hours when you should be enjoying a deep sleep.

When you have an evening drink (especially more than 1), your liver has to work to break down, process, and get rid of that alcohol, which increases your heart rate. As discussed above, an elevated heart rate makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.

I’ve noticed first-hand that if I allow myself a glass of wine too late in the evening, my sleep quality really sucks.

4. Quit looking at your screen.

I think it’s well known by this point that looking at your phone or other device screen before falling asleep is harmful to your ability to fall asleep. I won’t go into deep details on the science, but if you’re interested, you can read up on it here. Instead of looking at your phone, grab a good running book and read a few pages or a chapter before bed to help you wind down without affecting your circadian rhythm.

5. Set a regular bedtime and stick to it.

When you go to sleep and wake up the same time every day, your body gets used to the routine schedule. This will make it easier to fall asleep when you need to get some shut-eye, and easier to wake up in the morning.

Bonus: Get up at the same time every day. I’m amazed at how many things I can get done in the wee early hours of weekend mornings! Plus, that’ll ensure you get to bed on time because when you get up early, you’ll be tired and ready for bed when it’s time.

How to Improve Sleep Quality for Runners

6. Start getting ready for bed 30 minutes to an hour before you actually want to be asleep.

By giving yourself extra time for your evening pre-bedtime routine, you will help ensure you have enough time to actually be asleep when you want to and get enough hours in before the alarm clock sounds.

7. Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.

These three things will all help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep all night. Remove distractions, get some good black-out curtains and/or blinds, and make sure your AC is functioning properly in the summertime.

8. Use natural sleep aids if necessary.

A few ideas here include Chamomile tea, which is known for it’s sleep-inducing properties. Another potential sleep aid is Melatonin supplements, which I tend to use when I need a little extra help falling asleep.

9. Consider refreshing your mattress.

If you tend to wake up with aches and pains that seem to be there every morning, but don’t get those aches when you sleep elsewhere, your mattress might be toast.

As your mattress ages, it begins to sag in the middle. Chiropractors agree that sleeping on an old mattress is a recipe for chronic back pain, which can be especially terrible for your running.  If your mattress is old and worn out, it will leave you tossing and turning all night. Invest in a new mattress and get a better night’s sleep for your health, and a better run.

Mattresses can be expensive, which is usually why many people put off replacing their mattress as often as they should. Instead, they wait until they simply can’t stand the pain before FINALLY replacing it.

Do yourself a favor and replace it NOW.

Try this affordable, easy solution for a good night’s sleep

My husband and I found a mattress that is the perfect combination of affordable and quality. Tuft & Needle has the perfect mattress, and they’ll ship it right to your house in a box. It’s easy to set up, and you’ll notice the difference in your first night of sleep on this mattress.

I couldn’t believe how terrible our old mattress was until we got our new Tuft & Needle mattress, and we slept like babies. You can order it easily through Amazon, get 2-day free Prime shipping, and Tuft & Needle even offers a risk-free 100 night sleep trial. You can use this mattress for 100 nights and if you decide it isn’t for you, you can return it with zero hassle.

Start your 100-night sleep trial now.


Run (and Sleep!) Happy,


About Me: I’m Alexis, Founder of RunningMyBestLife! I am an avid recreational runner, half marathoner, wife, dog mom, busy professional, downhill skier in Northern Utah. My mission is to help new enthusiasts fall in love with the sport of running. I believe that running is a catalyst to taking control of your life and living your best life by design. Learn More –>