Has it ever happened to you that you did a great long run and that you are so tired and exhausted that you cannot sleep?
In this article, you will find out why you sometimes cannot sleep after a long run.
Why can’t you sleep after a long run?
After a long run, there is a possibility of sleep issues due to increased secretion of the stress hormone cortisol and due to increased body temperature and dehydration caused by running.
Below I will explain in detail each of the reasons why you might be having trouble sleeping after long runs.
1. Increased levels of cortisol
Intense running, combined with everyday stress, can increase the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal cortex, which takes part in the regulation of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins and is activated by stress, acting to varying degrees on various systems in the human body.
It has been given the epithet of stress hormone due to its increased secretion in stressful situations during which, under normal circumstances, additional energy is produced for the purpose of dealing with stressful or harmful situations.
Cortisol levels vary during the day, the highest in the morning and the lowest in the evening.
The closer we get to sleep, the lower we want the cortisol level to be. Why? Because cortisol halts the production of melatonin, a hormone that plays an important role in achieving required sleep.
2. Release of adrenaline
The cause of insomnia after long runs might also be the hormone adrenaline. It is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland and released when you are aroused.
Adrenaline increases the amount of blood that the heart pumps and directs to where it is needed, stimulates the breakdown of glycogen (stored carbohydrate stores) in active muscles, and stimulates the breakdown of fats.
The amount of adrenaline released from the adrenal glands is proportional to the intensity and length of the workout. The longer and harder you exercise, the more adrenaline is released.
According to research, adrenaline levels can stay elevated for up to 48 hours after an intense workout.
3. Increased caffeine intake
Most runners consume coffee or other caffeinated beverages before or during training or a race.
Caffeine is a stimulant that boosts alertness and improves concentration, movement coordination, and attention. However, in spite of all its benefits, it can affect your sleep pattern and diminish sleep quality.
Caffeine is a stimulant that you can easily get used to, which means that some people can drink coffee late at night and still have no trouble sleeping. However, if you are a person that struggles with insomnia after an evening workout or long runs, take care of your caffeine intake and the time you consume it.
The effects of caffeine can be felt after only 15 minutes after consumption.
The level of caffeine in the blood reaches its peak within 30 to 60 minutes and, for most people, it stays at that level for a couple of hours. On average, caffeine has a half-life of about 5 hours, which means that if you have consumed 200 mg of caffeine, after 5 hours there will be 100 mg of caffeine left in your body.
Complete removal of caffeine from the bloodstream can take up to 10 hours.
TipIf you have been taking caffeine before or during training, it can stay in your body for up to 10 hours. Therefore, if you struggle with insomnia after long runs, avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening to prevent it from affecting your sleep.
Research has shown that consuming caffeine 6 hours before sleep has a significant effect on sleep disorders.
If you aren’t well hydrated after long runs, there is a possibility that you will have trouble sleeping. Check your fluid intake before, during, and after training. If you are doing long runs in warmer weather, drink isotonic drinks to replenish lost electrolytes.
Fluid intake is important but try to avoid it an hour before sleep as your bladder will be full and frequent visits to the toilet can also affect your sleep.
5. Increased body temperature
Running increases your body temperature and, if it still stays increased, it is likely that you will have trouble sleeping. Several hours can pass after running before your body cools to its normal temperature.
After long runs, the body is also dehydrated, which prevents it from lowering its temperature and causes additional sleep issues.
6. Deficiency of certain vitamins and minerals
The deficiency of certain vitamins and minerals like iron, vitamin b12, zinc, and magnesium can also contribute to sleep disorders. Talk to your doctor and, if necessary, do blood tests to check the true state of your body.
7. Exercising in the evening
Exercising in the evening can be a cause of insomnia. An intense evening workout increases the secretion of hormones adrenaline and cortisol, making it harder to sleep.
When you have harder or longer workouts on your schedule, try doing them in the morning. However, if you are unable to do the workout in the morning, do it at least 3 hours before sleep so that you can relax and fall asleep more easily.
8. Insufficient calorie intake
If you train hard, there is no need for drastic diets. Insufficient calorie intake can be a cause of sleep issues. Your body needs nutrients to fill your glycogen stores and replenish them more quickly and efficiently.
When your sugar drops below a certain level, cortisol and a surge of adrenaline are released that force you to wake up. Low blood sugar will keep your body in a catatonic state throughout the night, instead of the anabolic process that is vital to repairing muscle damage caused by exercise.
In addition to the fact that you should not go to bed hungry, it is important to check the quality of your diet and take care of the food that you eat throughout the day.
If your workout is late in the evening, do not skip a meal after exercising. Eat something easily digestible so as not to burden your digestive tract; for example, eat some cottage cheese and a banana.
9. Restless legs syndrome
Leg fatigue, which can occur after long runs, causing discomfort and thus disturbing your sleep.
One of the signs of overtraining is the lack of sleep and the problem of insomnia. And if you do not sleep enough, you cannot recover after harder workouts, leading to overtraining. This is how a vicious circle is created.
Recovery is a part of training, and it should not be ignored. If you do not provide your body with enough rest for recovery and regeneration, in return, your body will produce a higher amount of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to sleep disorders.
Listen to your body and be patient. Gradually increase your weekly and monthly mileage in order to avoid the risk of injury and overtraining.
The research found sleep disorders and increased illness in endurance athletes that have symptoms of overtraining.
11. Preoccupied thoughts
You finish a long run, but you are still constantly thinking about it, especially if it went great or terrible. Preoccupied thoughts can cause anxiety and negatively affect your sleep.
12. Time spent in front of a screen
Spending time in front of a screen before sleep can be the cause of your insomnia. Blue light emitted by screens stops the production of melatonin and thus reduces sleepiness.
How to fall asleep more easily after a long run?
Quality sleep is essential for recovery after training. Below you can find 17 tips on how to prevent insomnia after doing long runs and how to improve your sleep.
1. Reduce caffeine intake
Avoid caffeinated beverages in the late afternoon and evening hours. Also, take note of the amount of caffeine you ingest. Caffeine can stay in your body for up to 10 hours.
2. Do your workout earlier
If you have a harder workout on your schedule, do it in the morning.
If your daily commitments do not allow that, try doing the workout at least three hours before going to sleep. The more time passes between running and sleeping, the less likely you are to have insomnia.
Research has shown that early morning aerobic exercise leads to more time spent in deep sleep compared to afternoon workouts.
3. Stick to your sleep schedule
Routine is important in every part of our life, including sleeping. Try sticking to a certain sleep and wake schedule. Your organism likes order; set yourself a time when you will go to bed and when you will wake up. Naturally, everyday life often throws us off track, but try to be as consistent as possible.
Your body will become accustomed to it, and it will know that now is the time to sleep.
4. Develop a relaxing bedtime routine
A bedtime routine can include reading, a hot bath, light stretching, and all activities that relax you and make you calm.
5. Create a comfortable sleeping environment
Cool the room before you go to sleep. Everyone is different but the optimal temperature of your bedroom should be around 66 degrees Fahrenheit (19 degrees Celsius).
Let your bedroom be as dark as possible. Light interrupts the production of melatonin in your body, which disrupts metabolic processes. Use tinted curtains or lower the blinds.
Pay attention to the choice of comfortable bedding to additionally add to the comfortable sleeping environment.
If you get up during the night, do not expose yourself to bright light. Bright light can reset your internal clock and make it difficult to go back to sleep.
6. Reduce noise
If noise affects your sleep, try using earplugs or white noise.
7. Reduce your body temperature
Training increases your body temperature. Due to that, it is important to do a cooldown, some easy running after training, and stretch slightly to allow the body to gradually cool and return to its normal body temperature.
Likewise, you should get well hydrated after training. Dehydration makes it impossible to lower body temperature, which leads to sleep issues.
Some of the ideas on how to reduce your body temperature: take a cold shower and cool the room you are currently in.
8. Reduce time spent in front of screens
Consider leaving your cell phone and other devices in another room.
Research has shown that limiting the time spent in front of screens before sleep efficiently reduced the time needed to fall asleep and the excitement before bed, increasing sleep duration and working memory.
9. Pay attention to your last meal
Do not go to sleep hungry, especially after a long run. However, take care that the meal you eat before sleep is not heavy. Consume nutritious, easily digestible foods that will not burden your digestion so that you can sleep undisturbed.
10. Pay attention to hydration
Besides eating quality foods, hydration is essential after training.
Do not forget to drink more fluids after training to adequately hydrate your body. Most people do not drink enough fluids before and after training. Water is an important nutrient that is essential for optimal physical performance, resistance to injury, and maintaining a normal body temperature.
Try to avoid drinking fluids an hour before sleep because a full bladder can disrupt your sleep.
11. Perform blood tests
The deficiency of certain vitamins and minerals can be the cause of your insomnia. Consult with your doctor on whether it is necessary to do blood tests in order to know if you need to take dietary supplements.
12. Use breathing techniques
Use breathing techniques to fall asleep more easily.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique involves 4 seconds of inhaling, 7 seconds of holding breath, and 8 seconds of exhaling. Some proponents claim that this method helps people fall asleep in 1 minute. There is not enough scientific evidence to back this method, but there is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that this form of deep, rhythmic breathing relaxes and may help people fall asleep more easily.
13. Drink beverages that help you sleep
You are aware that you should avoid caffeinated beverages but, before sleep, drink something that will further relax you. An hour before sleep, drink a cup of hot camomile or lemon balm tea or a glass of hot milk.
WarningThis article is not intended to provide medical advice. If these tips do not help you, and you have insomnia on a regular basis or any other sleeping issues, consult your doctor.
To learn all about long runs read this article: What is Considered a Long Run? (5 Long Run Examples).
Hi, I’m Matea! I’m an Olympic Marathon Runner, founder, and writer behind OLYRUN.com. On this site, I provide help in the form of my knowledge and experience to all who love running and active living. Read more…