Honestly, my problem has always been rather over- than undertraining. I overtrained especially in the past when I used to run much more than I should have, compared to how much time I took for rest.
I'm doing better job on balancing my workouts now so I don't overtrain. Of course, excluding the times when I'm in absolutely amazingly awesome place in the world like Hawaii where I workout and hike and run and stand up paddle board non stop… and realize only when I get back home that maybe it was too much.
But in general, I keep a good balance between my workouts and rest. Here's how:
- By varying my training intensity, having both higher intensity and lower intensity days.
- By doing heavy kettlebell or dumbbell workouts, but also bodyweight HIIT workouts.
- By keeping most of my workouts under 30 minutes.
- By practicing bodyweight skills, like handstands.
- By getting my slow cardio in in the form of long walks, semi-long runs (lately, up to 45 minutes at most) or bike rides.
- By taking rest days.
During the years, I have come to understand how important variety is. And I've also realized how important sleep is, in order to keep me going and to make sure that I actually am ready for my next workout.
But let's talk a bit more about sleep…
When you overtrain, two things can start happening to you sleep:
- First of all, you may want to sleep all the time.
- Secondly, you may not be able to sleep at all. I have definitely experienced it.
Do You Want To Sleep All The Time?
You may have noticed that during particularly intense training periods, when you can't even remember when you took a rest day, your sleep is different.
Many people may find that as soon as they up their training volume or intensity, all they want to do is sleep. Waking up in the morning is hard, doing their everyday work is hard and getting up and working out is the most difficult thing. They may drink a million cups of coffee a day but still feel like they need a nap again.
Needing more sleep that is usual for you can be a sign of overtraining. When your body is tired, it needs rest.
Or Are You Having Hard Time Sleeping?
But also inability to sleep can be a sign of overtraining.
A lot of times, people whose sleep isn't great, are told to start exercising. But if you're working out a lot already but can't sleep, the last thing you should to is workout even more. There are other things that you could try instead of that, especially if the actual cause of your inability to sleep is in your head…[tweet_box design=”default”]If you're working out a lot but can't sleep, the last thing you want to do is workout more. [/tweet_box]
Having a hard time falling asleep, struggling with staying asleep or waking up multiple times a night may be happen because you're simply overtraining.
How Overtraining Messes Up Your Sleep
Here are some ways how overtraining can potentially cause you sleeping problems:
Muscle Soreness and Fatigue
I remember from my very intense running days that some nights when I went to bed, my legs were so heavy that it almost hurt.
The same thing has probably happened to you after a long day of walking. The muscle soreness and fatigue are just so strong that you may even need to take a pain medicine for that. I sure did it in hopes to get rid of the crazy heaviness in my legs and to be finally able to fall asleep.
Every time you workout hard, you cause microscopic damage in your muscles and joints. Microscopic damage sounds pretty terrible, I know, but in general, it's actually nothing uncommon or unhealthy–it happens to all of us once in a while after a hard workout or movements that we haven't done in a while.
However, constantly damaging the muscles and not given them enough time to recover is unhealthy. Who wants to be in pain all the time? Soreness is not the way to measure the success of your workout. And what's the point of working yourself to the ground and getting extremely sore, if it makes you feel terrible and won't let you sleep?
Changes in Hormones
Furthermore, overtraining leads to inflammation in the body. As a result of overtraining, the body produces more cytokines.
Cytokines are proteins that are regulating signaling in the body and brain. Increased level of cytokines may cause an imbalance in hormone levels, affecting also serotonin, which regulates mood and sleep. Increased cytokine levels also make us more prone to infections.
When you're training at high intensity, your sympathetic nervous system is activated and as a result, the levels of hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol go up. That's similar to what happens when we're feeling nervous or anxious and our heart rate and blood pressure skyrocket. If you're overtrained and constantly in this state, it's no wonder sleeping is hard.
If you simply ignore the fact that you're probably overtrained, you keep working out hard but don't get enough sleep, you make things even worse. One sleepless night is not going to do your hormones a ton of damage, but chronic lack of sleep will do it for sure.
In the past, there were long periods when I was constantly overtrained. Deep inside I knew I had to slow down, however, I never allowed myself to do it. Even just a thought of possibly sleeping in caused the following flow of thoughts in my head:
Don't be such a wuss!
You can do this, it's just a 60-minute run!
Get your act together and stop complaining!
And with those thoughts in mind, instead of sleeping in the days I could have done it, I still got up, hit the pavement and trained as well as I could.
The anxiety, the thoughts of being a bad person or putting on 5 kg by the next day if I'm not training today were the things that stopped me from allowing myself to sleep longer in the morning. Those thoughts were all so deep in my (subconscious) mind that they kept me awake.
It ended up being a vicious circle: I couldn't sleep because I was overtrained. My body and mind were asking for rest. But at the same time, my overtraining was definitely caused by insufficient sleep.[tweet_box design=”default”]You can't sleep because you're overtrained and you overtrain because you're not sleeping enough. [/tweet_box]
Overtraining can and most likely will affect your sleep sooner or later, if you don't fix it. I've never understood people who brag about how little sleep they get. If you want to give your best at life, including workouts and work, you need your sleep, and your health will sooner or later suffer from not getting enough of it.
Not every workout should leave you sore and no workout should ever feel like a punishment. By training reasonably, you will avoid overtraining and won't mess up your sleep.[tweet_box design=”default”]No workout should ever feel like a punishment.[/tweet_box]