How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep Before a Race
Race week is awesome and awful all at the same time. You’re amped and anxious no matter how well prepared you are for the race. Every single food choice suddenly gets over-analyzed. All of the sudden you seem to have all this free time and insane energy since runs are drastically reduced. Often this also means that you are not quite tired when bedtime strikes. Yet, none of that compares to the sleep you try to get just hours before the race. The entire week before a race good sleep counts so if you end up in fitful spurts of slumber the night before the race, the solid nights of sleep you got early in the week will help to carry you through. But there are some things you can do to ensure a good night’s sleep the night you really want it.
During the Day
You’re already amped, stressed, worried, pick the adjective that best describes your race-eve anxiety, adding fuel to the fire is not really necesary. Think about your most normal day and mirror that framework while monitoring potential offenders: caffeine, alcohol and acid producing foods.
If you normally drink coffee, drink coffee. There is no sense in riding yourself of caffeine the entire day to ensure a good night’s sleep just make sure not to finish dinner off with an Espresso. Besides, no one needs the headache that will come with no caffeine. Most people enjoy an adult beverage on a Friday or Saturday night and while alcohol can induce a fitful sleep, one drink with a meal if alcohol is a normal part of your diet shouldn’t be an issue, but call it one and done. Grabbing a beer or a wine spritzer might be a better idea than say a tequila shot.
Starting at breakfast, avoiding any foods that are heavily acid based or have historically caused you heartburn in the past is a good idea. (And don’t forget about the “extras” marinara sauces, vinegars or mustards!) The second you lay vertical, you may end up having to prop pillows up to dissipate even the most mild of heartburns, since heartburn does not make for a good night’s sleep. Also, propping yourself up can cause back or neck issues for race morning. Better to avoid the heartburn-inducing food in the first place.
Deal with the Race
Face the race before you get in the bed mentally, physically and logistically. Take some time, no more than 10 minutes and think about the race. Identify your thoughts, feelings, fears, hopes and issues then move on. Deal with concerns you honestly can like reiterating where to meet up after race to anyone who needs to know. Physically you want to evaluate when to go to sleep and keep in mind if you need to stretch before bed, take any medications or do any taping that needs to be done before hitting the hay. Logistically a race morning schedule needs to be done, complete and communicated in advance. Lay out all your gear to put on, pack the gear you or your support team is taking with you all and leave nothing but putting clothes on and putting nutrition in your body for race morning. Afraid you will forget your Garmin charging in the wall? Write it on a piece of paper and stick it on your car keys or the back of the hotel room door. Take every step to mitigate a paranoia that could strike while you are falling asleep.
A large portion of the poor quality of sleep runners get before races, and just as often before a long run, is due to the fear of missing the alarm. Gone are the days when we have to fear the power going out (thank you iPhones) but there are still a large number of things that can go wrong. That’s why setting two, if not three, alarms is a good idea. It might seem aggressive to the non-runner but it’s no different than someone who needs to get up for a flight they simply cannot miss. And besides, who wants to look like the cast of Home Alone getting ready for a race? The alarms need to be set on multiple devices. Let me repeat that, alarms needs to be set on multiple devices. The likelihood of more than one device losing power or their battery going low is minimal and so is the chance you set the alarm for am instead of pm more than once. The best alarm plan is a combination of three of the following four options: a real alarm clock, a wakeup call from a hotel staff member (if applicable), an alarm on your charging phone or a second alarm on your phone 2-3 minute later.
Extra (Sleeping) Gear
Whether you are spending the night at home or on the road, locate some essentials. As a culture we are not the greatest about making sure our sleep space is completely serene and comfortable. Get the temperature right for you. Tell any sleeping partners, two or four legged, to deal with it for one night if your ideal temp is not right for them. If every odd noise tends to wake you up or you are travelling and aren’t sure who will be next to, put on some earplugs or bring your sound machine. Same goes for the sleep mask. In your own home it may not be needed but ambient light or an ill-placed parking lot security light or smoke detector indicator light can make for avoidable nuisance. Depending on sensitivity to certain factors packing your own pillowcase and blanket may make falling asleep a bit quicker and soothe you better than the well-bleached hotel sheets you will be sleeping in if you travel.
Like most items related to running, ensuring we get a good night’s sleep is related to knowing our body and we don’t need to minimize small things that make a big difference. Whatever the reason sleep can be an elusive beast, even the night after a big race. The emotion and adrenaline that make running so fulfilling are still rushing high and you’ll have done all that celebrating crossing another finish line. But this time it won’t matter if you are tired the next day.