It’s the night before the race and you’re up, tossing and turning in your bed, thinking, panicking and thinking some more. Am I well prepared? Will I be able to give my best tomorrow? The competitors looked really fit; will I embarrass myself out there? Why can’t I sleep?
The truth is this anxious self-talk will rob you off quality sleep and might just ruin weeks of your hard work and training.
Best Practices for getting a Good Night’s Sleep before a Race
We all know how important sleep is for athletic performances and competitive results. Having a good night’s sleep keeps you focused and is often the key to winning. But we also know that it is common to be anxious, everyone gets performance jitters. Here are a few pro tips to help you ward off that unnecessary stress and get some good sleep before a race.
Make a Bedtime Routine
Prior to the big day, figure out a bedtime routine that leaves you feeling relaxed and ready to sleep. Keep in mind that this is not going to happen overnight. You have to start working on building a sleep routine weeks before the actual race, so your body is able to tune in. This might include taking a hot water bath, dimming the lights, listening to soft music and reading, changing into comfortable clothes or simply sipping on a cup of herbal tea, whatever works for you. You can add anything that helps you settle before you sleep. This way your body will get the message that when you do X, it’s time to sleep. Once you make a routine, stick to it and get on a schedule. Try to sleep at the same time every night and wake up around the same time the next morning.
Indulge In Sleep Inducing Foods
Did you know that the quality of foods that you consume at dinner has a direct impact on the quality of your sleep? So for dinner, the night before the race, pick foods which are rich in Tryptophan such as Turkey, milk and almonds. Tryptophan boosts the sleep inducing hormone, melatonin, in our body. That’s the reason why turkey always makes you so drowsy on thanksgiving.
Follow Grandma’s old advice, milk induces sleep through two channels; it not only contains Tryptophan but also stress relieving components. You can also have bananas which are basically sleeping pills in a peel. They also include nutrients which act as muscle relaxants. Other good options are rice, oatmeal and cherries. Pick the right foods and they will not only help you sleep like a baby but also take the anxiety of the race out of your mind, naturally.
Avoid sleep stealers especially caffeine that tops the list. You may want to avoid tea or coffee 3 to 8 hours before bedtime depending on how sensitive your body is to the effects of caffeine. Other foods that can disrupt your sleep are alcohol, spicy, and fatty foods.
Set the Scene
Before going to bed, dim the lights and switch off any electronic devices. If possible you can put your phone and laptop on charging in another room. According to research the emission of blue light from these devices can affect the release of sleep inducing hormone, melatonin in your body and thus disturb your sleep. For the same reason you should also avoid checking emails or watching TV at least half hour before your bedtime routine.
Research suggests that a temperature between 60° – 64° Fahrenheit is perfect to help you fall asleep so adjust your room temperature to a comfortable level before you sleep. Try to get a room with eastern or southern exposure to benefit from some revitalizing morning sun and remember to always bring your favorite pillow and/or blanket with you.
Don’t Over Think It
The number one culprit that robs athletes of precious sleep before the big day is anxiety. Many runners complain how they get very little sleep because of over thinking about their preparation and other trivial things. We all know that this is the worst thing to do but most runners just can’t help it. You can try different things to keep yourself calm. For example, you can try engaging in some easy stretching or meditation exercises. If stretching or meditation isn’t your thing, pick something else that works for you, like reading or listening to soft music. Another simple way to flush out these unnecessary thoughts is to write down everything that’s bothering you on a piece of paper, fold it and put it away in a drawer or another room.
From choosing your outfit for the race and planning your breakfast to assembling anything you will need for next day, plan each and every thing beforehand. Get organized early in the day so that you can free your mind close to bedtime. It’s best to keep a notepad and pen next to your bed. No matter how organized you are, there will always be something that you might forget or need to remember. Writing down and making a list will help to remove repetitive thoughts that can make you restless.
Return to Sleep
Okay so you’re all set and eventually do fall asleep, but what if you wake up in the middle of the night? When that happens, don’t start a clock watching countdown. It’s best to turn the clock to face away or cover it up. If you are unable to sleep even after 20 minutes, it’s best to get out of bed. Do some light chores like folding the laundry, make yourself a cup of herbal tea or do some light reading. Then get back to your bed as if you are starting your sleep again.
Hope these tips will help you get to bed early before the next race. Be sure to really try to prioritize your sleep in the days leading to the race. Cut down on social activities and other such commitments so you can bank a few extra hours of quality peaceful sleep. That way if you’re unable to get enough shut-eye on race day, you will have plenty of sleep in reserve.
Eugene Gabriel is a passionate blogger. He has always been fascinated by sleep and how it relates to health and wellness.
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.