Monday, May 3, 2010

Running on empty: marathon runner Tera Moody's struggle with insomnia

Without sleep even the simplest everyday tasks, like driving or writing emails prove to be a challenge.

The normally challenging physical tasks we do to stay in shape are nothing short of herculean. 30 minutes on the Stairmaster can feel like a hike up the summit of K2.

So what’s it like to run marathons with no sleep?

U.S. Olympic hopeful Tera Moody knows the feeling all too well. She’s had insomnia since she started running as a child.

As a guest writer in the New York Times “All Nighters” series, she describes her frustrations with waking up at 3 a.m., unable to get back to sleep.

Moody says you can find her at the 24 hour gym, running 20 miles on a treadmill while most people are deep in sleep. She compensated for the lack of sleep by loading up on caffeine before races.

The lifestyle has taken its toll.

“Not sleeping made me unproductive in my work and affected my relationships. I was pretty depressed during that time and even died my hair black to fit my mood,” Moody wrote.
Fitness went downhill, and injuries crept up.

Still she says her marathon times have improved.

Moody’s progress is a bit of an aberration. Her injuries are more typical. Sleeping less can add to inflammation, a huge concern for athletes. It can cause muscle and skeletal problems including soreness and tendinitis.

Researchers have tied extra sleep to athletic performance.

Trainers are taking note. Moody says most of her peers log 8-10 hours per night with a long nap in between workouts.Some NBA teams are changing their practice schedules so players can sleep in. The San Antonio Spurs eliminated morning practice altogether. They now report to the gym at 4 p.m. The Boston Celtics, Portland Trail Blazers, New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets are also experimenting with untraditional schedules.Tera Moody admits as long as she runs she’ll never be able to sleep that long.

Moody has improved her sleep hygiene and is seeing some of the benefits. She cut out caffeine and eating before bedtime. She’s replaced time with the TV and computer in the evening with a pile of books.

Learn how you can improve your sleep hygiene at

Image by Dave Delay

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