What If I Can't Sleep the Night Before a Marathon?

Man can't sleep
Biggie Productions

Pre-marathon insomnia is a very common issue. Even a seasoned marathon runner can be nervous or excited and have difficulty sleeping the night before a race. In addition, you may be traveling to a race and sleeping in a hotel or at a friend's house, or need to get up hours before your usual time.

Rest assured that a sleepless night before your marathon won't affect your performance if you've been able to get good sleep the week leading up to the race. The pre-race adrenaline rush will help you feel alert and ready-to-go for your race. Many racers have set personal bests despite pre-race insomnia.

Steps for a Good Night's Sleep

Some runners have trouble sleeping the night before because they're anxious about the race. Here are some steps to take to try to reduce your anxiety and get some rest:

  • To limit pre-race anxiety, make sure you lay everything you need out the night before the marathon. Remember the "nothing new on race day" rule. Your race outfit and race nutrition should all be items that you've tried out in training runs. Use a marathon packing list to make sure you don't forget anything.
  • Finish eating a few hours before you're ready to go to bed. If you eat too close to bedtime, you may have a harder time falling asleep. Avoid caffeine or alcohol for at least six hours before bedtime.
  • Have your pre-race breakfast or snack prepared and in the refrigerator so you won't have to worry about it before morning.
  • Start winding down for bedtime early in the evening. Do something relaxing like reading a book, listening to soothing music, or taking a hot bath before turning in for the night.
  • Avoid watching TV or going on your computer or phone right before bedtime. Spending time on social media or playing computer games will make it harder to fall asleep.
  • If you have to be up for your race at a time that's earlier than you're used to, try to gradually shift your sleep schedule in the days leading up to the marathon so that you're going to bed and waking up earlier. That way, it won't feel like a dramatic change when you try to hit the hay much earlier than usual on the night before your race.
  • If you're traveling to a different time zone for your race, take steps to help reduce jet lag. It's best to arrive at least a couple of days before the race so you have some time to adjust.

If you try these steps and you're still having trouble falling asleep the night before a marathon, don't get up and do something, like watch TV or walk around. Just lie in bed so that your body, and especially your legs, are still getting rest. Getting less sleep than you're used to won't affect your performance. You'll actually be amazed at how the excitement of the race makes you feel awake and ready-to-go.

Was this page helpful?