The night before a big race, many runners worry about getting enough hours of quality shut-eye. This can lead to tossing and turning until the sun comes up. Maybe you’re stressed about waking up early, getting shin splints, or your running performance. Or perhaps pre-race jitters and excitement are keeping you awake. Here are four ways to improve sleep the night before a race, so you can focus on being well-rested both at the starting line and during your run.
Lay out everything you’ll need for the morning.
Feeling nervous about the next day’s race? Take a few moments the night before to get organized. Set out everything you’ll need, such as socks, running bib, and shoes, as well as any extra accessories you want to bring, like headphones, K-tape, or a change of clothes. Mentally prepare for the morning ahead. Set your alarm, and factor in extra time for eating breakfast, traffic, parking, bathroom visits, and warm-up time.
Just breathe. (Yes, really.)
“One way to reduce some nervousness is simply to breathe,” says Aaptiv trainer Ceasar Barajas. “What? That’s it? Yup. That’s it. Conscious breathing—deep controlled inhalations for five to seven seconds versus deep controlled exhalations for eight to ten seconds—will activate the parasympathetic nervous system to begin a decompression, calming effect, and lowering of blood pressure.”
You can also pair conscious breathing with self-motivating thoughts of finishing the race, enjoying the race, and feeling grateful to even be able to run or walk a race, Barajas adds. Or, try a short meditation on the Aaptiv app to relax.
“Preparation is the key to reducing nervousness the night before a big race,” says Armen Ghazaraians, CEO of Finish Fit. “Use your imagination to visualize your race as you meditate. See yourself overcome each hurdle that comes your way as you run the course in your mind. By mentally preparing yourself in addition to doing so physically, you will put your mind at ease and allow yourself to overcome your pre-race jitters.”
Avoid too much alcohol and/or screen time before bed.
Certain habits can interfere with your ability to sleep the night before a race, Ghazaraians says. Try to avoid drinking alcohol because research suggests that booze can prevent you from reaching the type of deep, restorative sleep that your body needs. Additionally, skip watching television, using your phone, or diving into social media right before bedtime. It may rev you up rather than help you wind down.
Instead, try to find a different way to relax, such as taking a bath to soothe sore muscles, doing some yoga, or reading part of a book. If you’re still struggling, you can talk to your doctor about potentially taking a magnesium supplement to promote better sleep.
“Research indicates supplemental magnesium can improve sleep quality, especially in people with poor sleep,” explains Dr. Carolyn Dean, a sleep, nutrition, and fitness expert. “Magnesium increases GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter of the central nervous system, which encourages relaxation as well as sleep. Low GABA levels in the body can make it difficult to relax. Magnesium also plays a key role in regulating the body’s stress-response system. Magnesium deficiency is associated with heightened stress and anxiety. Stress depletes magnesium from the body.”
Remind yourself that it’s normal to be nervous.
“It’s all about adrenaline,” Dr. Dean says. “The night before a race, you are psyched up, pumped up, and thinking about how you will race and who you will be racing against, the route, your fitness levels, the elevation or terrain. All of this is going through your head, and your adrenaline, the fight-or-flight hormone, has kicked in. You are ready to fight, but your race isn’t until the next morning.”
Barajas agrees, noting that stress and anxiety are natural responses to any threat. That type of reaction is tied to our development as human beings over centuries. “Let’s say a saber-toothed tiger showed up at our cave entrance. Our body’s parasympathetic nervous system is going to fight, run away, or freeze. Pre-race jitters are our body’s way of responding to the saber-toothed tiger—the 5K, 10K, or triathlon—we’re about to face. But it’s not as scary as an actual saber-toothed tiger.”
“It is normal to have pre-race jitters,” Ghazaraians concludes. “The fear of not being able to perform as well as everyone else, not completing the race, or being left behind can enhance pre-race jitters and cause anxiety. A little stress, however, can be a good thing. It keeps you alert. It only becomes a problem if it prevents you from sleeping or negatively influences your performance.”