Athletics: The importance of sleeping right for runners

Have 8 hours of rest and adopt sleep hygiene, avoid alcohol and caffeine too close to bedtime

Despite a tight schedule with his residency programme and marathon training, Mok Ying Ren tries to sleep at least six to eight hours a day.
Despite a tight schedule with his residency programme and marathon training, Mok Ying Ren tries to sleep at least six to eight hours a day. PHOTO: ONEATHLETE

Sleep is a key aspect of recovery, although often overlooked and undervalued. It is never advertised as the "latest", "coolest" or "best" recovery tool on the market.

But everyone still knows that sleep is essential to recovery. I am sure many of you at least feel it intuitively - when you are fatigued, every task would seem to require more effort than usual to complete.


Sleep energises us, but how it does so is still much of a mystery.

All we know is that a myriad of hormones, such as prolactin, oxytocin, oelatonin and growth hormones, are produced at perfectly timed junctures throughout our sleep cycle.

This then stimulates a flurry of chemical activity in our cells to repair our cells and restore our energy.

It is this wonder of the human body that allows you to wake up from a good night's sleep feeling satisfied and rejuvenated.

  • #AskMok


    I have to juggle work and training. I try to sleep as little as possible to put in the training hours. Is this wise? How much should i sleep?


    Do pre-sleeping routines really help me get better sleep?


    As the races usually start about 4am, is it okay if I run without sleeping the night before?


It is hardly unexpected then that a chronic lack of sleep will have negative effects on our bodies.

Besides experiencing a perpetual sense of fatigue, your usual functions and abilities may also be compromised.

A study was carried out on soldiers who underwent a five-day combat course, clocking less than four hours of sleep each day. At the end of the course, the soldiers recorded a 14 per cent drop in their oxygen consumption rate and a 8 per cent decline in their anaerobic power.

The study also propounded that these adverse effects could be negated by a higher energy intake.

However, to adopt this unequivocally would require us to consume more as we sleep less - not at all an ideal or practical solution given the likelihood of us putting on weight (unnecessarily).

For runners, another pertinent issue would be that of injuries.

In a separate study conducted on adolescent athletes averaging 15 years old, it was found that those who slept for an average of less than eight hours per night were 1.7 times more likely to suffer from an injury than those who had at least eight hours of sleep per night.

Although limited as a cross-sectional study, the results of this study clue us in on the profound impact of sleep on the body's ability to recover from training stresses.


Sleep hygiene is instrumental to creating an ideal environment for sleep. Your room should be dark, cool and low in ambient noises. If you are a light sleeper, consider using ear plugs and eye masks to help you get into the "zone".

It is also wise to avoid alcohol or caffeine too close to your bedtime, to avoid excessive stimulants which may keep you awake.

I also try to hydrate myself well two hours before bedtime, so that I have sufficient time to empty my bladder before sleeping and avoid having my sleep disrupted due to nature's call.

Back when I was still training professionally, I would even go so far as to incorporate a 30-minute pre-sleep routine. This routine included reading a book quietly and having a warm glass of milk to prime my body for sleep. Admittedly, it is a challenge to keep up this routine, especially as a working adult, and I hardly do so now.


It is common to experience difficulty in sleeping the night before a race. I am not immune to this either.

It may, however, be of some comfort to you that any lack of sleep the night before your race is unlikely to jeopardise your race performance. Experiments have found that swimmers responded well even with a single night of partial sleep deprivation (21/2 hours).

For runners, their performances in endurance running remained unaffected even with three nights of severely restricted sleep.

Remember, running is your personal journey and race. Optimising your sleep will enable you to train and perform better at the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 07, 2018, with the headline Athletics: The importance of sleeping right for runners. Subscribe