No sleep before race day? New study says no problem

July 31, 2013

Many competitive runners have a lot of trouble falling asleep the night before a big race. It’s usually a combination of stress, anxiety and nerves, but whatever the cause it can prevent many people from sleeping well if at all. The running adage is that a good night’s sleep two nights before the race is much more important, but is there any truth to this? A new study says it just might be correct. 

Dutch researchers recruited 10 fit males to perform all-out 20 minute timed sprints on home exercise bikes. Each man went through two sessions: one following a night of good sleep, and one following a completely sleepless night. As many nerve-ridden racers had hoped, the two performances were roughly the same. The noticeable difference between each race was the men’s perceived performance. While they covered approximately identical distances in each session, they believed they had covered less following their sleepless night.

“The underestimation of the actual performance after sleep deprivation may lead to a decision not to start an activity in operational situations because of the feeling that the activity cannot be completed successfully,” researchers wrote in their report.

This study suggests that worrying about sleep is a bigger problem than the actual effect that sleep – or lack thereof – will have. While these men performed equally well, any experienced runner will tell you that a lack of confidence in your ability to perform can hinder you. Hopefully, this new study will inspire worrisome runners not to focus on their tossing and turning and instead trust that they can perform at a high level regardless of how much sleep they get. After all, detracting from these nerves may lead to a better night’s sleep.