In April, I lost my job. I gained a nice severance payment, a reduction in stress, and a lot of free time. One of the first things I did was prioritize getting a full nights sleep. The payoff for going from 5-6 hours of sleep per night to 8-plus was huge. After nearly a year of stagnant training with FTP test after FTP test coming in at the same mark despite plenty of training, my first post-sleep-focus FTP test came back with a 20% increase in power-to-weight. My Training Stress Score (TSS) per week hadn’t changed, my training pattern was exactly the same. I was just getting more sleep.
Back in 2014, the Wall Street Journal put out a report stating that seven is the new eight, explaining that people need less sleep than traditionally taught. People loved it, another hour to get stuff done!
What the Wall Street Journal failed to mention is the increased need for sleep in athletes. If you’re exercising frequently, you’re tearing down muscle fibers and accumulating exercise byproducts. On top of that, training hard is a cognitively demanding task. If you want solid and consistent mental and physical performance, getting good sleep should fall at the top of your cycling training plan.
Two reasons why increased sleep is crucial for any cyclist who is training regularly:
- The nervous system and brain cleans up cellular garbage while you sleep. This cleanup allows memory formation and cognitive sharpness the following day.
- Your muscles repair themselves and bathe themselves in relaxant while you sleep.
If you cut your sleep short, your nervous system and musculature doesn’t get to rebound and you’re body is left functioning on a deficit.
What do Athletes Have to Say About Sleep:
- Usain Bolt “Sleep is extremely important to me. I need to rest and recover in order for the training I do to be absorbed by my body.”
- Jarrod Shoemaker “Sleep is half my training.”
- Bread Kearns “when I was competing at the highest level, I often joked that half of my life was spent asleep.”
The Benefits of Sleep
Numerous studies have shown that sleep is integral to successful athletic performance. For example, in one study, researchers asked subjects to complete a 30-min treadmill test after a normal night’s sleep They then had subjects complete the same test after 30 hours of sleep deprivation. Athletes who received better sleep consistently covered more distance than those who did not.
A lack of sleep is detrimental to performance on the bike. Sleep deprivation leads to faster time to exhaustion, greater perceived effort, decreased power output and slower reaction time.
How Long Should Cyclists Sleep
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends at least seven to nine hours of sleep for the best performance. The amount of required sleep differs by individual depending upon physical activity, stress level, and sleep deprivation. It’s important to also consider quality of sleep. If you experience frequent night waking you’ll require more hours in bed.
Researchers at Stanford University found that athletes who slept 10 hours a night displayed better performance and mood. Strong evidence that athletes may require more sleep than average adults.