Does Running Keep You Awake?

by Benita Zahn

A crazy thing happens to me when I run long... anything 8 miles and over. I don’t sleep well. You’d think I would sleep like a baby but just the opposite happens. Turns out I’ve got plenty of company and if you’re among my pals in tossing and turning, read on.

When I began my research the first thing I found was that dehydration could play a role. Okay. Perhaps. I’ve been known to skimp on post run hydration. But then again I’m ‘pee’ attentive and in retrospect I don’t think that’s the issue. If you’re new to running, my ‘pee’ reference means your urine should be light yellow indicating you’re well hydrated. Dark indicates you need to drink up. Ideally you should stay hydrated through the day because ‘catching up’ within two hours of bedtime will find you making a bathroom trip or two because you just can’t sleep with a full bladder.

Many Google searches later, my drive for more information led me to the “Miles with Michelle” article in the September 2017 issue of Running. She did a Twitter survey on this issue. Granted, that’s hardly scientific but the responses make sense. Yes, dehydration was among the reasons for interrupted sleep. But others include post-run adrenoceptors (Adrenoceptor | definition of adrenoceptor by Medical dictionary (thefreedictionary.com). Short explanation – your sympathetic nervous system is involved. Turns out adrenoceptors can affect your body like caffeine. So if you routinely run late in the day be sure to wrap up those miles 3 hours before bedtime. Since I’m generally a morning runner that’s not my problem. And I also have the genetic makeup that lets me drink coffee right up to bedtime with no ill effect on my sleep. (Coffee: Is it right for your genes? | Genetic Lifehacks )

So maybe it’s the aches and pains triggered by the run that’s disturbing my sleep. Nah – I feel pretty good. There’s always the mental aspect in that we might review the good, the bad and the ugly of the run. Let’s face it, I’m not that driven. I’m more likely to sleep poorly BEFORE a long group run for fear I’ll be the slowest in the pack. And yes, I’m going to address speed in an upcoming article.

The comment that caught my eye related to low blood sugar. If it drops below a certain level, Michelle points out, cortisol is released and you get a surge of adrenaline, waking you up. The low blood sugar level also prevents your body from engaging in repairing muscle damage caused by that run. Okay now. That I ‘get’. By adding more carbs to the post run refueling you can prevent this. So break out the bananas!

As always, ongoing sleep issues can be indicative of overtraining. As my husband the former coach (football, wrestling and baseball) reminds me: rest never hurts. So be sure to plan that downtime. It’s restorative. Enough about me – now, time for you to look in the mirror. If after examining all this and making changes you’re still struggling to get a good night’s sleep, speak with your doctor. As a new study finds, people who don’t get enough sleep in their 50s and 60s may be more likely to develop dementia when they’re older. Not enough sleep was described as 6 hours or less a night. The research is published in the recent issue of Nature Communications. So figure out what’s keeping you awake at night – long runs or something else – and then improve your shuteye. Your body will thank you in so many ways.


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