While it’s important to get your miles in when training for a half or full marathon, it’s just as important to take the time to rest and recover. Sleep is essential for restoration of the body: When you’re not getting enough sleep at night, your performance suffers, and your chance of injury and illness increases.

Here are a few steps you can take to help optimize your sleep to maximize your performance.

Determine how much sleep you need

To help determine the amount of sleep you need, you must first find out how much sleep you are regularly getting. You can do this by tracking the number of hours you sleep at night for two weeks.

If you find that you are getting less than seven hours per night, try increasing your nightly sleep by 30-60 minutes for one week. Gauge how you feel after one week of extra sleep and see how your training responds. Continue increasing your sleep duration in small increments until you no longer feel a difference in your regular daytime activities or an impact on your training.

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Most adults require between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, though athletes in heavy training may consistently need eight to 10 hours per night.

Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary

Your bedroom should be cool, dark, quiet, and comfortable. Here are some tips for creating your sleep sanctuary:

  • Set your thermostat between 65 and 70°F, and consider using a fan for additional cooling or white noise
  • An eye mask or blackout curtains might help you stay asleep or sleep more deeply by blocking out light
  • Remove electronics from your bedroom such as TVs, tablets, phones, and computers, and avoid using them close to bedtime

Restrict caffeine intake after lunchtime

While many runners enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning or before a workout, it’s important to not consume caffeine regularly later in the day. Restricting caffeine can help you prepare for a good night’s sleep.

Establish a regular ‘wind-down’ routine in preparation for bedtime

A routine tells your body it’s time for bed and helps you prepare for a good night’s sleep. Your routine should be relaxing and may include:

  • Reading a book
  • Listening to music
  • Taking a bath

As noted before, your wind-down routine may be more effective if it does not include electronics such as TVs, tablets, phones, and computers.

Optimize your sleep schedule one month before race day

With one month to go before race day, runners should work to optimize their sleep routine by establishing and maintaining good sleep habits. If pre-race jitters keep you up the night before the race, you can relax, as this happens to many athletes. One night of restless sleep will not throw off a month of regular rest and recovery.

Good sleep is accumulated in the weeks leading up to a race, so remember that planning and executing a good sleep strategy is an important part of your overall training plan.

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Sports and physical activity bring with them a potential for injury. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury – or improve athletic performance – UPMC Sports Medicine and the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program can help. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our experts partner with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers, and about 100 other high school, college, and regional teams and events throughout Pennsylvania – working daily to build better athletes.