How to Change Your Running Schedule When You Can’t Get Enough Sleep

This week’s guest blog post is by coach Gary Reynolds. He shared these ideas with me over lunch this past spring, and I found them so helpful I asked him to write about them to share with you.  I’ll be back to blogging next week, sharing some observations about the runners in the Commonwealth Games.

The Importance of Sleep

How much sleep do you get? Maybe it’s 6 hours a night, or 7 or even 8! There’s been a lot in the press in recent years about what the right amount of sleep is – and mostly about the fact that people don’t get enough.

And for anyone who runs, sleep is more important than you might think…

Let’s take a brief look at how the body responds to training:

As you run, your body actually breaks down. Muscle gets damaged, bone gets broken down, strain is put on ligaments – and so on. It’s in the period between runs (the recovery phase) where the body repairs itself and where it comes back stronger than before. Overall, this is known as the training effect and can only happen effectively under the right conditions – which means getting enough sleep for the repair process to happen.

Get less sleep, and the body repairs itself less. Do this often enough and injury can occur. If you suffer from emotional stress then the effect can be the same.

This is illustrated quite nicely in the following diagram:

So what can you do?

Well the easy answer is to get enough sleep – but that’s often easier said than done, particularly if you’re a parent of a young child, work long hours or suffer from plain old insomnia!

The other alternative is to train smarter…

Reduce your weekly mileage. Training consistency is the key to success, so you want to try and avoid injury at all costs. Reduce your training volume to a level that you can maintain. Everyone is different, so a general recommendation is impossible. If you’ve got a niggle that looks like it’s going to turn into an injury, dial back the volume until you reach an equilibrium where you can train without problems. Your overall aim is to be able to train week-in week-out without injuring yourself.

Think about the frequency of your key sessions. For most runners, the key ‘weekly’ sessions are a long run, a tempo run and a fartlek, hill or interval session. There’s nothing to say that you need to do all of these in a single week. You might consider, for example, a 10-day training cycle where each of those key sessions happens over 10 days. You won’t really lose out much in terms of the training effect (if you sustained an injury you’d lose out a whole lot more!), but what you will do is give your body just that bit longer to recover. You might also try combining that with…

Cross-training (cycling, rowing, swimming) use your muscles in a different way. If you’re following a 10-day training cycle, put in some extra cross-training sessions rather than adding more runs. If you’re on a 7-day cycle, try dropping a non-key run each week for a cross-training session.

The overall message from this post is that sleep (both quality and quantity) directly affects how often and to what intensity you can train without injury. Professional athletes often take naps during the day to boost their recovery, but for most of us this isn’t an option. The alternative is to tailor your training to your recovery rate.

Happy running! 

Gary Reynolds is a British Athletics registered running coach and head coach/founder of Runners’ Paradise.

Based in Kent in the UK, he specializes in endurance events from 5K to ultra marathon with focus on economy through correct running technique, injury prevention via targeted strength training and custom training plans that help runners realize their full potential.

1 thought on “How to Change Your Running Schedule When You Can’t Get Enough Sleep”

  1. Great article Jae. I have always found that I need a lot of sleep. On a stressful work schedule I like to aim for one hours sleep for every hour worked. Thus a 10 hour work day = hopefully 10 hours sleep. I can’t always do this but I have really found that I need to alter the amount of running I do to fit the recovery I can work in. It is a good thing that we can actually benefit and busy times from less training than people actually think and that we can still try to maintain key workouts. Thanks for this article.


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