While great leaders of the world (and some, not so great!) have worn their lack of a need to sleep like a badge of honor, the truth is – we all need adequate, regular sleep to be our best selves. And if you’re looking to excel on the bike, you should be approaching sleep as a crucial element alongside your training program – as though your A race depends on it. Here’s why, and how, to do it.
Why Cyclists Need More Sleep
What’s the biggest difference between a professional and an ameteur cyclist? While power output, time in the saddle or resting heart rate would all be fair guesses, the answer, according to British Cycling, is actually quality of recovery time. If you want to see gains on the bike, know that your commitment to your training is only as good as your commitment to your recovery. A lack of sleep not only inhibits muscle repair, leading to increased risk of injury and affected performance, but it also increases cortisol levels in the body, stressing the system.
Get Your Eight To Be Great
Cyclists in training should aim for eight hours’ quality sleep every night – not much more and certainly not too much less. On a program to improve power output, one of the body’s features you might be looking to improve is stronger muscles in your legs, through training with increased resistance, sprints, and hill reps. Muscle tissues are stressed and broken down during this process – and it’s while sleeping that they are subsequently given the optimum conditions within which to repair.
According to the Sleep Foundation, While sleeping, our body cycles through three non-REM sleep stages (N1-3) and REM, with each full cycle lasting for about 90 minutes. During N3, blood is sent to the muscles in order to aid tissue repair and growth. This period of restorative, deep sleep is when energy is also restored and the vital human growth hormone (HGH) is released. While we release HGH during exercise too, the vast majority is released only while asleep.
Not Getting Any
Much like our appetite, our need for shut-eye is a vital homeostatic drive that’s closely tied to the endocrine – or hormone – system. But, despite it being the most natural thing in the world, it’s not always easy to attain; and just like every other part of a holistic training plan, we have to put the work in to get results.
Get regular, quality sleep, by practising ‘sleep hygiene’. No, that’s not about changing your sheets (although fresh bedding is a very good way to improve comfort!) Instead, it’s about strictly following some simple guidelines until they become habit.
Perhaps the most important tip for improving your sleep life, is to schedule a regular bedtime – for example, 10pm allows for eight hours before 6am – and rarely stray from it. Next, learn to associate the bedroom with relaxation; use an alarm clock that’s not your phone, and leave digital devices outside of the bedroom. Alongside your non-digital routine, avoid late training sessions, drinking caffeine late in the day and napping in the late afternoon. Finally, sleep in a, cool, dark room to aid your body’s natural sleep cycles.
By following some simple rules we can all find our way back to restorative sleep again – and the bonus is that good sleep, in turn, aids good sleep – it’s a winning situation for both off and on the bike.