Ask any runner how to get faster and they’ll wax poetic about long runs, high mileage, and tough workouts. But what about sleep?
Sleep is the most undervalued training tool you have available to skyrocket your race times, reduce your injury rate, and simply feel better while running.
The next great improvements in running performance will come from better recovery methods and mastering your own inner psychology. When we can do more – but recover from it – and take advantage of our brains to push ourselves harder, we’ll get much closer to reaching our potential.
Today we are going to discuss how to enhance recovery to run faster, gain more fitness adaptations from every workout, and ultimately run new personal bests.
And how exactly do you enhance recovery? Simple: you get the best night’s sleep of your life.
In a world where every runner is obsessed with foam rollers, trigger point balls, cryotherapy, constrast baths, compression gear, and the latest insole technology, isn’t it time we go back to basics?
Instead of wasting thousands of dollars on gear that either doesn’t work or only helps a little bit, it’s far more effective (and cheaper) to optimize the one recovery tool that is the MOST effective at enhancing recovery.
And that, my friends, is a solid night of sleep.
Why Focus on Sleep?
As athletes, we must prioritize rest because after every hard workout our fitness actually declines until we recover:
In an interesting study at Stanford, the basketball team slept for 10 hours every night. And the benefits to the team were substantial:
- Mood was improved
- Energy levels increased
- Shooting became 9% more accurate
- Sprint times got 5% faster
Even more important, the researchers found similar results among Stanford’s track, swimming, football, tennis, and golf teams.
With proper rest, you’ll have more energy (allowing you to run better workouts – but also do them in a better mood) but also have better performance. You’ll simply run faster.
And who doesn’t want that? Since sleep is when the body repairs itself – and that repair process is what makes us better runners – we have to focus on sleep!
The benefits of getting a good night’s sleep mirror the benefits of performance-enhancing drugs. No wonder why the San Antonio Spurs (a pro basketbal team) would rather pay $250,000 in fines than compromise sleep!
One major reason that sleep is so critical for athletes is that only during deep sleep is human growth hormone (HGH) released.
Getting restless or inadequate sleep will reduce the amount of HGH released, possibly resulting in:
- Increased fat storage
- Reduced muscle mass
- Poor mood and increased likelihood of depression
No wonder why HGH is banned as a performance-enhancing drug.
To benefit from the incredible recovery benefits of sleep, it’s important to make sure you’re setting yourself up to sleep well at night.
How to Optimize Sleep
“Optimizing” sleep is another way of saying “practicing good sleep hygiene.” We talked before about how to sleep better – here’s a quick summary:
- Use blackout curtains to reduce the amount of light in your bedroom
- Set up a white noise machine or app to limit disruptions (ear plugs work, too)
- Run a humidifier if you live in an arid climate or during the winter when humidity levels are often below 30% (ideally you’d be around 50%)
- Close down all screens 30 minutes to one hour before bed (the blue light changes your circadian rhythm)
But there’s one aspect of sleeping better, faster, longer that I never discussed: the value of having a good mattress.
We spend about a third of our lives on this piece of furniture, so why not invest in something that will improve our mood, energy, productivity, and running performance?
To me, it’s a no-brainer. And I’m excited to introduce you to Bear Mattress – a brand designed for enhancing recovery for hard-working athletes.
For the last two months, I’ve been testing a mattress from Bear. And while I was skeptical at first (“aren’t all mattresses the same?“), after a few weeks I was pleasantly surprised by how good I felt every day.
Bear is a different type of brand, made exclusively for athletes. Each mattress has:
- Heat-resistant memory foam so you don’t get too hot at night – in fact, it has 7x the cooling power as standard foam
- A natural fiber material that has been clinically proven (in 9 studies!) to increase oxygen circulation
- High-density foam that supports proper alignment without causing any pressure points
- CertiPUR-US certification: low VOC emissions, no dangerous chemicals used, and no heavy metals
That last point was important to my family. After all, what good is a great mattress if it’s full of chemicals like formaldehyde, flame retardants, or ozone depleters?
I don’t want to breathe those chemicals – and I certainly don’t want my wife or children around them, either.
So here we have a mattress that’s undergone multiple clinical tests to prove that it increases oxygen circulation, won’t release unhealthy chemicals, promotes nuetral spinal alignment, and won’t cause overheating.
As you can imagine, I was excited to try this new product and see if it lived up to the hype.
Unboxing a Bear Mattress
All Bear mattresses are unique in that they ship in one box (and shipping is free). When it arrives, it doesn’t look like a normal mattress. This is how it was dropped off on my front porch:
Having the entire mattress folded in one box made it a lot easier to maneuver upstairs into my bedroom. But a quick word of warning, the blue color from the box will rub off on your clothes:
You can see where my phone was in my pocket! But it washed off easily. And once the box was opened, it looked like this:
After cutting open the plastic, it opened up and seemed fully decompressed within a few minutes. Even though Bear says you can sleep on it the same day it arrives, we waited another day to let any offgassing occur.
Even though it’s CertiPUR-US certified to have low VOC’s and no dangerous chemicals, we still wanted to be safe since our infant was sleeping in our bedroom.
There was a noticeable smell during the first few nights but it wasn’t unpleasant and it soon went away completely.
After a few nights, I asked my wife Meaghan what she thought of the new mattress. She told me:
It’s firm but responsive. The mattress isn’t hard or soft so there aren’t any pressure points and you don’t wake up sore.
I feel the same way. It’s much more firm than any other mattress I’ve slept on, but it’s neither hard nor soft.
I haven’t experienced an achy lower back that I always get from soft mattresses. And I’ve never woken up sore like I do from sleeping on rock hard futons.
The top layer of memory foam reduces motion transfer (which means if you roll around a lot, your partner won’t notice as much) and this is definitely true. I never know when my wife is getting in and out of bed – and she does this all night long to feed our daughter!
And the cooling technology seems to work. While I love to sleep in warm conditions (I know, I’m a weirdo), my much more normal wife always gets frustrated with being hot at night. We haven’t had this problem with our Bear mattress.
More importantly, I actually look forward to going to sleep every night because the mattress is so comfortable.
Is a mattress designed for recovery for you?
For an athlete like myself, a good night’s sleep and prioritizing recovery are important. Moreover, I want to be fully rested so I can be more present with my family and work more effectively with my runners.
So even if my toddler gets up at 5:30 in the morning and my sleep is cut short, I know that my time spent sleeping was high quality and the best it can be.
Writing about a mattress makes me feel old – I never thought about this stuff in my 20’s – but as I get older, I’ve come to realize that investing in a premium mattress is one of the smartest decisions you can make.
It affects how you feel every single day, impacting how well you perform at work, with your family, and while training.
So these days, I take my mattress seriously and give the Bear brand an enthusiastic thumbs up.
Here’s a quick summary of what I love about the Bear mattress:
- It ships free
- 100-night risk free trial – and no hassle returns
- It’s designed for athletes to optimize recovery
- CertiPUR-US certified – meaning you’re not breathing any dangerous chemicals
- Proprietary memory foam reduces motion transfer
- It doesn’t need a box spring – any hard surface works just fine
- No “break in period” – just set it up and you’re ready to sleep
- No need to ever flip the mattress
There are a lot of things to love. But there are a few things that I don’t like:
- There IS an initial smell to the mattress, though it clears in a few days
- Cost is on the expensive side but still less than $1,000 for any size (memory foam mattresses can be up to $7,000!)
Since I’ve only been testing the mattress for about two months, I’m also concerned that the foam will deteriorate faster than its advertised lifetime of 10 years. Since it never needs to be flipped, there’s the possibility that some regions of the foam don’t have the same levels of support.
But at this point, since it’s lived up to all of its claims so far, I’ll reserve judgment and see how I feel in a few years.
And really, I should’t worry. It comes with a 10-year warranty.
Just yesterday I texted my wife to see what she didn’t like about the mattress. Here’s what she said:
I guess it’s a good thing when your wife doesn’t even notice you’re in bed with her…?
Ultimately, I don’t think the offgassing issue is something to be concerned about. After all, Meaghan noticed that her parent’s old Tempur-Pedic smelled a lot worse than our new Bear mattress. And Tempur-Pedics are significantly more expensive…
If you’re in the market for a new mattress and optimizing sleep – your #1 recovery tool – is important to you, I’ll confidently recommend Bear.
While I very rarely write product reviews, this was a special opportunity to not only support a new small business, but also review a different product than what’s normally reviewed on most sites.
Plus, the sheer potential of sleeping on a high quality mattress can’t be ignored. It’s far more important to get your mattress right than, say, a pair of compression socks.
You can check them out at Bear Mattress and if you’re interested in buying one for yourself, use code RUNNER75 to save $75 on any size mattress.
Don’t wait too long since the code expires on December 15, 2015.
This post is in partnership with Bear Mattress. Thank you to Bear for supporting Strength Running and our mission of helping runners race faster! All opinions are my own and 100% honest. This post was not influenced nor reviewed by Bear Mattress before publication.