Having Problems Sleeping the Night Before a Marathon

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Pre-marathon insomnia is a pervasive issue (even documented by scientific research). 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 in a different time zone, sleeping in a hotel or at a friend's house, or need to get up hours before your usual time. All of these can contribute to disrupted sleep.

But rest assured: One sleepless night before your marathon won't affect your performance. What matters more is whether you've been able to get a good sleep in the week leading up to the race.

The pre-race adrenaline rush will help you feel alert and ready to go for your race, even if you've been wakeful the night before. Many racers have set personal bests despite pre-race insomnia.

Your Sleep Training Plan

Getting sufficient sleep in the days and weeks before the race should be part of your marathon training plan. One study of ultramarathoners showed that sleep extension (adding extra sleep time at night, plus daytime naps) was a helpful strategy before these challenging races.

A small study of basketball players, in which the players were advised to try to sleep 10 hours per night, came to a similar conclusion, as did a review of multiple studies on athletes and sleep: More sleep equaled better performance.

To maximize your sleep:

  • Optimize your environment: Follow tips for sleeping better, such as keeping your bedroom dark and cool, avoiding screens in the evening, and sticking to a consistent sleep schedule (even on weekends).
  • Shift your sleep schedule: 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.
  • Prepare for jet lag: 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.
  • Take naps: If you're struggling with nighttime sleep in the days before your race, try to take naps if you can. Research shows sleep-deprived athletes can increase performance by taking a 20 to 90-minute nap between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Some people find great benefits from taking melatonin, a supplement that helps you feel sleepy. It is especially useful for trips and occasions where sleeping away from home makes you less able to fall asleep. Speak to your doctor before taking a new supplement.

Sleeping the Night Before the Marathon

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

  • Lay out everything you will need 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 more challenging 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.

A Word From Verywell

Pre-race excitement or anxiety can interfere with your ability to sleep the night before the big event. You can set yourself up for the best sleep possible with some thoughtful preparation. Research also indicates that if you miss out on nighttime sleep, an afternoon nap the next day can help.

It might be a good idea to nap the day before the event, anticipating missed sleep. If you experience insomnia or anxiety regularly, speaking to a sports psychologist or other mental health practitioner may be a wise choice.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Juliff LE, Halson SL, Peiffer JJ. Understanding sleep disturbance in athletes prior to important competitions. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 2015;18(1):13-18.

  2. Martin T, Arnal PJ, Hoffman MD, Millet GY. Sleep habits and strategies of ultramarathon runners. PLOS ONE. 2018;13(5):e0194705.

  3. Mah CD, Mah KE, Kezirian EJ, Dement WC. The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. Sleep. 2011;34(7):943-950.

  4. Bonnar D, Bartel K, Kakoschke N, Lang C. Sleep interventions designed to improve athletic performance and recovery: a systematic review of current approaches. Sports Med. 2018;48(3):683-703.

  5. Lastella M, Halson SL, Vitale JA, Memon AR, Vincent GE. To nap or not to nap? A systematic review evaluating napping behavior in athletes and the impact on various measures of athletic performance. NSS. 2021;Volume 13:841-862.

  6. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Melatonin: What you need to know.

Additional Reading

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.