Post-run sleepiness
February 26, 2014 8:36 AM   Subscribe

I've been running (at least 1 hour each workout) since the New Year, and have now acclimated to the intensity of exercise. But still, after the run as soon as I change and sit down, I am overcome by an incredible urge to sleep. I usually eat a banana, but if I don't I also get a headache. Someone suggested maybe electrolytes would help with the sleepiness. What are some credible sources of information on that? Or, any ideas for not being so sleepy after working out?

I usually do about 20-30 minutes of elliptical, and then I run anywhere between 2-4 miles at 5-6 mph. I am not a super sweaty person in general, but usually drench a shirt. Other than that, I eat very clean and healthy.

Because of the sleepiness I've been running at night so that I can just go home and sleep. But I'd like to be able to run mid-day too.
posted by atetrachordofthree to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would try morning running. I have found that running first thing in the morning is a lot easier on my body. However, it also occurs to me that you are doing too much, too soon. Skip the elliptical, and stick with the running, and SLOW DOWN. You don't need to run so fast if you're a beginner.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:39 AM on February 26, 2014

I have had this problem and the solution was to get more sleep.
posted by michaelh at 8:51 AM on February 26, 2014 [7 favorites]

Your details sound remarkably like mine right down to the feeling sleepy afterwards bit. I really like very intense workouts so I understand if you don't really want to slow down your running speed or take it easier...the only thing that I could figure out was happening with me was that maybe I was dehydrating myself (I would soak through a t shirt and I don't drink water during a workout, but would have some sports drink when I got home). I was also on a very carb and processed food restricted diet, so maybe my body was just working extra hard to keep going on the nutrients I was giving it?

If you're not hydrating enough try drinking more water, and maybe eat a little bit more as well.
posted by newpotato at 8:59 AM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Make sure you're getting enough to eat before you exercise as well. If your sleepiness is caused by food/electrolyte issues you need to address it before it starts, eating a banana once you're already getting sleepy probably isn't going to stop it.
posted by ghharr at 9:30 AM on February 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

That's a long and intense workout. Do you eat anything before your workouts? Pre and post workout nutrition are key to preventing bonking. I'd have a banana a half hour (ish) before your workout, add fluids, and have at least a banana if not also some protein (I do a banana with nut butter) after.

If you want more technical info about this, try searching for terms like "replenishing muscle glycogen" and "aerobic vs anaerobic workouts".
posted by ldthomps at 9:31 AM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

What are you eating before the workout? And how long before?

In the past, before I realized I need a lot of carbs in my body before running, I would feel that way after a run. Now I know I need to eat a meal about 2 hours before, or else a banana or something similar 10 minutes before a run. And for long runs (> 90 minutes) I need to supplement with gels.
posted by barnoley at 9:40 AM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Chocolate milk is a superb post run drink.
posted by srboisvert at 10:39 AM on February 26, 2014

I find that if I feel exhausted after a run, that it's a trailing indicator of poor nutrition the day prior, and less related to day-of intake of food and fluids. Try eating more hearty fare at dinner the night before you run. It'll help, I promise.
posted by killdevil at 10:55 AM on February 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: How much sleep are you currently getting on average, really? Like, how much time at night are you literally spending unconscious, not including time spent reading in bed, time spent trying to fall asleep, time spent getting up to pee in the middle of the night and then going back to sleep again, etc. If it's less than 8 hours, there's your first clue. Also if for whatever reason you think you might not be getting quality sleep, that would also do it. If you go to bed drunk (even a little bit drunk), or if your nose is stuffed up, or if you're anxious and stressed, or you've had too much caffeine, or if it's too hot or too cold... all those things and more can mess up your sleep quality. If any of that stuff describes you, you should probably work on fixing that.

Also it might be a blood sugar thing. Running is going to burn through a lot of glucose, and that's probably going to leave your blood sugar levels a bit depressed for a while afterward which will make you feel tired and dopey and give you headaches for a while until you either eat something (like a nice sugary banana) or your body is able to free up some stored glycogen from your liver. Try drinking some diluted gatorade or similar (regular gatorade and powerade are at least twice as concentrated as they should be for optimal hydration) which will give you some extra sugar to work with and will also help keep your electrolytes up of course. The extra bit of sugar and electrolytes also helps your body pull water across the intestinal barrier faster, so you'll stay more hydrated.

I doubt it's actually an electrolyte thing, though. Unless you're really low on some electrolyte to begin with it's going to take more than an hour of intense exercise to put you into hyponatremia – and you can only do it if you're drinking a lot of straight water as well, since you have to actually dilute the electrolytes by putting water back into your system without replenishing your minerals. Since you're probably sweating at least a couple liters an hour if you're working at your maximum aerobic capacity, and you are only able to absorb one liter an hour of straight water (unless you do the sugar-and-electrolytes trick) I think it's unlikely that a lack of electrolytes is causing your problem. I think it's either sugar and/or sleep that you're missing.
posted by Scientist at 10:56 AM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Like Scientist, I doubt this is electrolytes. You could easily test this by drinking some electrolyte drink before and during your run. Ultima is a sugar-free electrolyte drink that's fairly complete and available in single serve packets. Sugar-free will allow you to reduce the variables you're playing with at one time. First, electrolytes. Next, add sugar and see if it's blood sugar. (I usually alternate between one bottle of electrolyte mix followed by a bottle of water. You may not be running long enough to need both so a thinner electrolyte mix might be better.)

When I did endurance runs here was the sequence I followed to diagnose trouble. Hydrate, fuel, recovery, injury.

1. Am I consistently fully hydrated?
2. Am I eating correctly - day before and immediately pre-run?
3. Am I consistently getting enough sleep?
4. Am I injured or on the way to an overuse injury?

I'm inclined to believe that you're simply not getting enough sleep for muscle recovery. Your body is letting you know. When I run long, I need a nap.
posted by 26.2 at 11:34 AM on February 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's taken my body easily 3-5 months to adjust to a new workout routine both in terms of my appetite, need for sleep and energy level. And actually often longer in terms of my appetite. It did happen eventually, but took way longer than everything I read said it should take.

I mean certainly try everyone's suggestions, but you may just need to wait it out.
posted by whoaali at 12:16 PM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Come to think of it, having trouble getting good quality sleep was why I started running in the first place... I am probably not sleeping enough. But also have been over looking pre-run nutrition. Will definitely try these suggestions!
posted by atetrachordofthree at 12:36 PM on February 26, 2014

I become a grumpy jerk if I don't eat a decent meal before I run- not right before, but a good breakfast before a morning/early afternoon run, or a solid lunch and snack before an evening run. The longer the distance you're running the further ahead you need to plan your nutrition, hydration and sleep to not feel shitty afterwards.
posted by MadamM at 9:31 PM on February 26, 2014

If it is sleepiness, like you are zonking out, rather than full-body exhaustion, this is normal. I ran track, and on the bus ride home from meets, everyone who ran 400m or above were passed out on the way home. The same with pre-season training, in the morning... we'd all fall asleep during class. I used to get up at 5am, do my workout, try to get back by 7 so I could sleep again until 8:30, then go to class at 9. Runners who compete at elite levels sleep all the time. I'd guess 10 hours a night plus a 2 hour nap. If they aren't training, they are sleeping. Your body will adapt to your current workload, but if you keep pushing your limits, you'll probably keep needing more and more sleep.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 11:02 PM on February 26, 2014

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