Sleep – or lack of it – is a common phenomenon in our 24hour society. In a world when you can do your weekly shop at 2 am or pay your gas bill on line at midnight it is tempting to keep fitting more into your daily routine. Britons work longer hours on average than any other European country, couple that with family and home commitments and squeezing in some time for cycling and something has to give. Unfortunately the thing most likely to go is sleep. Even an hour less than you need a night over time can become a problem.

Sleep isn’t very well understood as yet but interest in research is growing rapidly and new aspects keeping being revealed.
We know recovery is just as important as exercise, it gives your body time to heal adapt to the training load and become stronger. Recovery means having an easy spin, putting your feet up after a training ride and finding time to relax. Getting enough sleep is another factor altogether – resting is no substitute for sleeping.

Accumulative lack of sleep is a major health problem for the whole nation but to someone who trains hard and expects a lot from their bodies sleep can have a major effect on how well you adapt to training as well as general health and well being. Doctors in America have called lack of sleep “America’s top health problem”, the rise in adult onset diabetes and obesity have all been connected with chronic sleep loss along with day to day problems of loss of concentration, lowered immune system and irritability.

Researchers at the University of Chicago have found that partial sleep deprivation alters the circulating levels of the hormones that regulate hunger, causing an increase in appetite and a preference for calorie-dense, high-carbohydrate foods. The study, published in the 7 Dec. 2004 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, provides a mechanism linking sleep loss to weight gain.

New research into diabetes has shown that both getting too little sleep and too much is equally likely to increase a person’s chance of developing type two diabetes even when all other factors are equalized. The March 2006 issue of Diabetes Care compared the risk of diabetes in men sleeping less than six hours a night and men sleeping more than eight hours a night. Those with short sleep duration were twice as likely to develop diabetes and those who slept most where three times more at risk than the 8 hour group.

* Impaired glucose metabolism and the ability to replenish carbohydrate
* Reduced cardiovascular performance
* Impaired motor function and reaction times
* Increased appetite and associated weight gain
* Delayed visual reaction time
* Delayed auditory reaction time

Psychological Effects
* Increased perceived exertion for a given training load
* Impaired mood – may affect motivation to train
* Reduced short-term memory capability

Good sleeping habits can make a huge difference to your health and well-being but critically for cyclists also your athletic ability. Lack of sleep can reduce cumulative cardiovascular performance by 11 per cent and slow glucose metabolism by 30-40 per cent. Slow glucose metabolism may be responsible for weight gain as a consequence of craving fatty sugary foods and for endurance athletes such as cyclists impair their ability to train or race for longer distances.

One research article looking at the benefits of good sleep habits on performance concluded that the difference in performance between an athlete with accumulative sleep debt and one who slept properly was so powerful that to take it to its logical conclusion as a performance enhancer it should be banned!

* Don’t exercise within a few hours of bedtime
* Avoid caffeine or alcohol in the late evening
* Make your bedroom a calming environment and use low lighting to read by
* Read or listen to the radio to help you wind down before trying to sleep
* Make sure you are comfortable and the room is neither too hot or cold
* Eliminate any artificial light source and sleep in a completely dark room
* Have a relaxing bath
* Set a routine bedtime and stick to it
* If your mind is going round in circles write down what you are thinking about – it will still be there in the morning
* Eat something with protein in the two hours before bed to increase levels of tryptophan

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