Training with Insomnia

Updated: Jul 19, 2019

Insomnia really sucks. As a sufferer myself, I know how difficult it is to even think about training when you’ve a terrible night’s sleep. Times this by weeks, months or years and the fight can become a bit unbearable. The energy and willpower needed to get out of bed in the morning can be all you can muster up at the best of times.

I’m certainly still working on improving my sleep, and there are times where I give up and think that this may be how I live for quite some time. I’ve found a few techniques that seem to help, such as breathing exercises and reading before I go to bed. I also found that having a regular sleep pattern was the trick – going to bed and waking up at the same time (yes, even early on weekends) sets my sleep up better for a period of time. However, my sleep still affects my training on a regular basis. I try to fit in naps before training if my sleep has been 4 hours or less – this doesn’t always happen and sometimes if it does, it can make me feel more lethargic.

Training on no sleep isn’t fun at all. A few nights of broken/minimal sleep is not safe for heavy lifting or heavy duty training and could end in injury. If insomnia isn’t a problem for you and it’s only one night, ease off the training, lift a bit lighter or focus on some recovery practice. If bad sleep is persistent, focus on what may be causing this, for example, anxiety could have a massive effect on sleep. I would recommend looking into the below to help identify if training is helping or hindering sleep:

1. The time of day you’re training

More important than you may think. People often think that training will make you tired. Sometimes this can be true, and a hard training session can help to knock you out for the night. However, be conscious that training does activate the sympathetic nervous system, and this takes time to settle down again. If insomnia is very bad, it might be an idea to review the time of day you’re hitting the gym. I try (not always succeed) in training before 4pm now. I know my body takes a while to calm down after my training sessions, so I allow myself that time. This is also the same with work – my mind doesn’t switch off for quite a while, so I try not to take work home with me or work past a certain time.

2. The intensity/type of training you’re doing

Again, connected to the CNS. If you’ve recently started an intense programme of training and your sleep has drastically changed, it may be time to start taking notice of what’s happening. The body is suddenly coming out of homeostasis and releasing hormones at a higher level. Develop a base fitness and always work up from there rather than jumping from a low intensity to a high one. If you do a lot of high intensity training already and have recently developed problems with sleep, although it may not be linked, it may be a good idea to consider toning your programming down for a while until your sleep is in order.

3. Caffeine intake

Caffeine can be a life saver before training, but again, timing could be main thing to consider here. If you’re training late, it’s probably not a good idea. Caffeine keeps us awake and alert, so having it too late can have a negative effect on sleep. This is another thing I try not to have after around 4pm.

4. Are you resting enough?

Overtraining could be a signal that something needs to change. Not allowing your body to rest and recover properly can have many different effects on the body – one of them being sleep. Allow your body to recover properly, take a smart approach to training (including active recovery/rest days) and focus on getting some quality over quantity within your training.

Look after yourself and if you suffer with insomnia, check out the below website for some tips on improving sleep. Hope it helps!

Alix x

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