The Importance of Sleep For Cyclists

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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The Importance of Sleep For Cyclists

Improving your performance is about more than just how much and how hard you train.

Whether it’s achieving a new personal record in a time trial, riding your first century or reducing your chances for injury, let’s take a look at why sleep could be the secret ingredient to your cycling success.

WHY CYCLISTS NEED SLEEP

Chronic sleep deprivation can have a big impact on how well your body recovers and adapts to strenuous workouts. Without sleep, hard training continues to wear your body down and make you more susceptible to injury instead of making you faster. This is because your muscles repair themselves when you rest.

In addition to recovery benefits, studies have also shown cyclists who get more sleep can ride longer before reaching exhaustion than cyclists of similar fitness levels who get less sleep per night. Sleep can also help you recover from the mental and psychological stress of training and other stress that occurs during your day, making you feel refreshed and more energized the following day.

WHAT A LACK OF SLEEP DOES TO YOUR BODY

While we know your body doesn’t recover as well when you don’t get enough sleep, it’s important to understand exactly what happens. Here are five side effects of sleep deprivation and the role they play in your cycling.

1

GROWTH HORMONES

If you follow the professional peloton, you’ve probably heard of human-growth hormone (HGH). In the doping world, cyclists use this to build muscle and recover quicker, enabling a high level of performance day after day. What you might not realize is this is actually produced naturally in the body, but you need to sleep to make it happen. The more you sleep, the greater the opportunity you’re giving your muscles and tissues to regenerate and get stronger.

2

MORE STRESS ON YOUR BODY

When hormone levels like cortisol are high, it can directly affect how quickly your muscle tissues repair and grow. For those who aren’t getting enough sleep, cortisol levels remain higher during the nighttime hours as compared to those getting 7–9 hours of sleep per night. This places more overall stress on the body, makes it harder for your muscles to recover and can be a factor in weight gain and injury.

3

CONCENTRATION AND REACTION TO OBSTACLES

While an hour or so less sleep per night might not seem like a big deal, over the course of a week, it makes a difference. When looking at reaction times, 4–5 fewer hours of sleep can affect how attentive you are, how well you’re able to concentrate and how quickly you react to obstacles thrown your way. Whether you’re riding in traffic or flying down a hill, getting enough sleep can help you be safer on the road.

4

DECREASED GLYCOGEN STORES

Glycogen is used by your muscles for energy when you ride. Because lack of sleep can affect insulin levels, your body will have a harder time storing glycogen. This hinders performance on long or high-intensity workouts by decreasing how efficiently your muscles work.

5

THE “TOO TIRED” FACTOR

When you don’t sleep, you feel tired. On the bike, this translates to less energy for working hard. One theory is your muscle fibers don’t work together quite as well. Another is when your brain is fatigued, it’s harder to push yourself to extreme limits. Whatever it is, you won’t be as fast unless you get enough sleep.

TIPS TO MAKE SURE YOU’RE GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP

If you get off track a few nights during the week, sleeping in for two consecutive days during the weekend can help get your body back on track.

To make sure you’re getting enough quality sleep each night, use these easy tips:

  • Consider a fitness tracker to monitor your sleep. Many of today’s models not only track the number of hours you sleep, but also how much deep sleep you get.
  • Monitor your heart rate variability. This can help you determine if you’ve recovered enough during the night to handle another day of intense training or whether you’d be better off with an additional day of rest.
  • Get on a schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time puts your body on a schedule, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up.
  • Avoid excess alcohol and caffeine. This can affect sleep cycles and cause you to wake up more frequently, especially in the hours before bed.
  • Try relaxation techniques before heading to bed. Readingyoga and breathing exercises can relax the body and mind and make getting quality sleep a little easier.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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