Is Insomnia While Training Normal?

Q Is insomnia while marathon training common? I haven’t slept well in weeks and even melatonin isn’t helping!


A Though insomnia while training is common, it can mean there is something off balance in your system. Here are some likely culprits and ways to establish balance and get a good night’s sleep again.


Culprit #1

Your training intensity is too hard, too frequently, or it hovers at the same moderate-to-hard effort most of the time (La La Land). This can be sneaky in hot weather because your normal pace may turn into a “hard” effort and eventually lead to symptoms of overtraining, which include insomnia.

The Fix

Train by your effort, by your body, and by your breath. You may have to run more slowly at times, but you’ll recover more readily and reduce the chances of fatigue and insomnia related to over-stressing the body. Make sure your training plan gradually increases over time and avoid playing catch up in mileage if you miss long runs or workouts. Train from where you are and continue to progress gradually. Make sure to include cutback weeks in mileage and intensity to allow your body time to recover.


Culprit #2

Lack of adequate nutrition. In many cases, not fuelling with enough kilojoules and balanced nutrients will throw off your adrenal system and create difficulties in quality sleep. This is especially true if you’re training for long-distance races while on a reduced-kilojoule diet.

The Fix

Keep a fuel diary for a week and evaluate your kilojoule energy consumed versus expended. Also review to see if you’ve changed the balance of carbohydrates, protein and fats. Making drastic changes to highly processed foods, more white or starchy carbohydrates or sugars can also negatively affect some runners. Consuming clean foods with a short list of ingredients can make a significant difference in recovery and the quality of sleep. Keeping a diary of your fuel intake is an effective way to look at the big picture and make changes to balance the nutrients and kilojoule. At all costs, please avoid a very low-kilojoule diet while training.


Culprit #3

Be mindful of the medications, caffeinated products, and supplements you’re taking, especially if you are new to long distance training. Your dosage requirements may shift (lower) as you gain more fitness or lose weight. Also note that medications and supplements can interact and create imbalances that affect sleep.

The Fix

Make a list of all the medications, nutritional supplements, and energy drinks you’re taking and talk it through with a pharmacist or doctor. Reduce your caffeine intake and limit to consuming early in the day.


Culprit #4

Training late in the day.

The Fix

Although this isn’t true for all runners, some of us can get over-stimulated if we train in the late afternoon or evening hours and then struggle to get to sleep. This is especially true if you run at a hard intensity or for a long duration. Try running in the early morning hours or at lunch to rule this out as a culprit.


Culprit #5

Performance anxiety hits the best of us. The demands of training and the race distance can take a toll mentally and churn up fear and worry and keep you up at night.

The Fix

Keep a training diary by your bedside and track your training thoughts, dreams and worries. It’s a great way to see your training progress along the way, vent your worries and get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper. If you still can’t fall asleep post–diary writing, get up and read an inspiring book in another room to avoid creating more stress about not being able to fall asleep.


Making a few small changes can make the difference in getting a good night’s sleep. It may mean modifying your training routine to running easier more often or fewer miles for a week or two, but in the long run, it’s more important to train, sleep, and recover consistently to keep the balance. Your body and mind are simply trying to communicate something is a little off and needs an adjustment.

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