How (& How Much) Do A Marathon Swimmers Rest or Sleep?

The amount of sleep one needs tends to decrease with age. Statistically, infants and young children require 16 to 20 hours of sleep per day while adolescents require only 10 to 12 hours per day. Once one reaches adulthood, statistically, only 7 to 9 hours of sleep are needed.  Adequate sleep is important for optimal health (and functioning) for the “average” person, but it is vitally important for endurance athletes such as marathon swimmers. 

Long-distance swimming such as a marathon or ultra-marathon is intense. Training can take up many hours of the day plus most swimmers still have a job and/or school to balance. And, on race day, a swimmer can be in the water for anywhere from 2 to 24 hours or more. 

This may have one wondering, “How do a marathon and/or ultra-marathon swimmers rest (sleep)?”.  And, it’s a valid question. 

I mean those that run marathons don’t typically sleep during their event, but there are aid stations and one can take breaks throughout the course, as needed, so long as they complete the race within the time limit for the race. And, their training plan generally incorporates adequate rest/recovery, including sleep. 

Check out How Long Is a Marathon & Ultramarathon Swim? (Distance & Duration)

When it comes to [land-based] ultra-marathon (or cross-country type of) events, the athletes typically have a support team in vehicles and/or campers and the race will be broken into legs (i.e., periodic breaks are scheduled into the race). Again, their training schedule incorporates adequate rest/recovery, including sleep. 

Let’s face it, no matter how badass we may want to be (or think we are) the human body will only endure so much. It will eventually reach a breaking point without needed rest (sleep) and nutrition (fuel). Thus, sleep is important both during training (leading up to the event) and during the event (if it is long enough for such breaks). 

Find out more on Do Marathon Swimmers Eat & Drink During the Race? How!

So, back to the question of whether or not marathon swimmers rest/sleep… 

Ultimately, it depends on the race (and athlete)

Sleep is extremely important in general, but particularly in the 2 to 3 weeks leading up to a marathon or ultra-marthon race. So, it’s crucial for swimmers to incorporate adequate sleep into their training program. In fact, they may want to try for a little extra sleep each night in those 2 to 3 weeks before the event. 

Ultimately the exact amount of sleep one needs will depend on their particular body. In general, though, the amount of sleep one needs will scale with the amount of energy being exerted. In other words, the more energy being exerted, the more sleep one will need. Or, said another way, the more intense your training/workout session is the more sleep you will need [to recover]. 

So, on an intense day, one may need somewhere around 10 to 12 hours of sleep whereas on a lighter day 7 to 9  is sufficient. And, don’t be afraid to include naps if needed. Again, adequate sleep is crucial to proper recovery and optimal performance. 

Now, concerning sleep during a race, I have never personally swam in such an event (thus, I lack personal experience/anecdotal evidence). And, there is not much literature out there on the subject matter. 

What I (or anyone, really) can deduce from the material that does exist on it, is that much like land-based marathon or ultra-marathon races (events) it will depend on the specific race (event) first and foremost, and the athlete second. 

How Do Swimmers Sleep/Rest During the Race ?

Some marathon events are short enough that sleep during the race is a moot point (i.e., it would be pointless; the duration of the race is not long enough to require sleep during it). However, much like land-based marathons of this nature one does have the ability to rest and refuel (in designated areas) so long as they complete the event within the designated time limit [for the race]. 

For longer events such as the ultra-marathon, one’s support team will generally accompany them in the water (much like land-based races). While one’s support team is in vehicles for land-based events that are long enough that they require such mobile support, one’s support team for a swimming marathon event where mobile support will be needed (i.e., swimming ultra-marathon) will be on a kayak or other boat (sometimes referred to as a support boat). 

For the longer marathon (ultra-marathon) swims, one typically has a larger support boat that they can utilize for sleeping between legs of the event (however those legs are decided- whether it’s by the race/event coordinators or the athlete).

So, as we can see, swimming marathons are much like land-based/running marathons. Both races require one to have adequate rest/recovery and sleep not only leading up to the race (event) but also during it (should it be a long enough race).

Thus, one will want to assure adequate sleep is incorporated into their training plan leading up to the race regardless of the race’s length. And, for those that are swimming longer marathon races, such as an ultra-marathon, and will require sleep during the race, you’ll want to assure your support team has a vessel (i.e., a boat) suitable for one to sleep on between legs of the race. (Source A)(Source B)(Source C)

Melissa Frank

My passion, outside of animals, is helping people and adding value to their lives…I strive to leave the world a little better than I woke to it each day. The first part of my career, for a total of about 15 years, was spent in the public safety field as a Volunteer Firefighter/EMT-B and 9-1-1 Operator. In 2019 I obtained my personal trainer certification (ACE certified) as well as many group fitness certifications and certification as a Corrective Exercise Specialist.

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