How to Get Sleep the Day Before a Race: Marathon or Half-Marathon

I just ran a half-marathon 5 days ago in Spokane, WA.  I also slept terribly the night before!  I think I may have been lucky if I actually slept for more than an hour or 2.

Although, I have to admit that this was better than the Seattle Rock n’ Roll marathon that I ran about a year ago.  I did not sleep at ALL the entire night.  I just tossed and turned for 8 hours.

I am usually a really good sleeper, never have insomnia, but for whatever reason, the night before a race, I don’t sleep well.  So, I certainly can’t say that I’m an expert at sleeping well before a race.  But after doing some research on my own this week and considering a few options, I’ve come up with some best practices for getting a good nights rest the night before a half or full-marathon (or any race distance for that matter).

2 to 3 Days Before the Race

The truth is that if you don’t sleep well the night before the big race, your performance may not be impacted much at all.  Even though I didn’t sleep well before my half-marathon a few days ago, I still set a personal record and felt great!  I have also heard this from others that didn’t sleep well the night before – you’re performance may not be noticeably changed.

However, if you have not been sleeping well for 2 to 3 days before the marathon, then your times likely will be slower than they could have been.  The nice thing is that usually 2 to 3 days before a race you are still at home in a familiar bed and shouldn’t have any problems getting the rest that you usually do.  I have never had issues being nervous or thinking too much about the race that far in advance.

So, if you can get a good night’s right for the few days leading up to the race, even if the night before is not ideal, you should still be okay.  Having said that, here are some ideas to help you sleep better before your marathon.

Eliminate Sounds

Part of the issue with races, is that you often have to travel and sleep in a hotel the night before the marathon.  For me, this is an issue.  The beds are never as comfortable as my own.  I also traveled with my kids to this last half-marathon, and that brings a whole bunch of challenges by itself.

But the biggest thing that I hate about hotels are the loud AC or heater units!  Am I alone here?  I can’t stand the loud blowing fan all night long that many hotels use.  Sure, I could turn it off, but then it would be so hot (or cold) that I wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway.

So, tip number one is to eliminate as many sounds as possible.  This could be the loud AC unit, crying kids, cars outside, or other things. You can eliminate sounds by using ear plugs, headphones, or other techniques.

Take Your Mind Off the Race!

Yes, I know this is nearly impossible to do, but if you can get your mind off the race, you will probably sleep better.  This is my issue apparently.  My brain gets stuck on running the race the next day, and so I can’t relax and actually get the rest that I should.

You can get your mind off the marathon by listening to music, podcasts, or audio books.  I personally can’t sleep with anything being pumped into my ears, so maybe you want to try other techniques.

You can try reading a book if you are struggling to stop thinking about the race.  Or simply use your brain power to consciously think about something else!

Stretch or Walk Around

If you are still feeling antsy, you can get out of bed and walk around for a little bit.  Try stretching and maybe even doing some simple exercises like pushups or situps.  This can get the blood flowing a little and help take your mind off the next day’s events.

You obviously don’t want to do anything too strenuous, but there are lots of other simple activities that you can do.  After a few minutes, try laying back down and enjoying a good night’s rest.

Sleep Medication?

Obviously there is all kinds of medication that can help people sleep.  Benedryl and Tylenol PM seem to be the most popular. However, it may not be a good idea to be taking these medications the day before a big race.  You could wake up quite groggy and not feel ready to go due to the after effects.

So, I can’t personally recommend that you try any sleep aids the night before the race because I haven’t tried it, but it doesn’t seem like a good idea.  If you must try it, I would recommend taking it very early the night before, in hopes that it will be well worn off by the time the starting gun sounds.

However, if you are struggling to sleep 2 or 3 nights before the race, then this might be an okay option.  Make sure you get the sleep you need leading up to the race.  This would also ensure that the drug has completely worn off by the time the actual marathon rolls around.

After doing some research, I feel much better equipped to get a good nights rest for my next big race day.  What do you think?  Did I miss anything?  If you have any additional thoughts or questions, I would love to hear them below.

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