Dec 9th, 13. Crowd favourite German cyclist Jens Voigt will make his 11th appearance at the ... read more
Dec 8th, 13. Reta Trotman and Grayson Napier were impressive winners in the elite women’s and ... read more
Dec 5th, 13. Injured cyclist Eddie Dawkins will take his place in the team sprint combination ... read more
Dr Armstrong: Sleep and athletic performance
Dr Stuart Armstrong continues his great series on health topics relevant to Kiwi cyclists. His latest topic - sleep and athletic performance.
"There is new research showing extra sleep can further improve your athletic performance."
Sleep is a funny thing. If I ask my patients how they feel their sleep is, nine times out of ten the answer will be “terrible”. Why is that?
A good night's sleep
Firstly what constitutes a good night sleep may surprise you. For a long time I thought a “good night's sleep” meant you went to bed, and as soon as your head hit the pillow you were out like a light only to arise the next morning after 8-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
However, recent research has indicated a “normal night's sleep” for an adult actually constitutes two parts. Each part is roughly 4-5 hours long and is separated in the middle by about 30-40 minutes where you are awake. Traditionally this has been the time for marital relations!
It is also thought that it should take around 15 minutes for you to fall asleep after going to bed. This is the time it takes for the body and mind to relax.
If you look back at my version of “a good night's sleep”, this is actually a sign of exhaustion and if it carries on for too long may lead to burnout.
So how much sleep do we actually need?
The vast majority of us need 7-8 hours of sleep a night. This requires us to be in bed for 8-9 hours per night. There are some people who can survive on less, and some that need more, but the vast majority of us need 7-8 hours.
If you are sleep deprived for a week (averaging 4-5 hours per night) a sleep in on Saturday of 9-10 hours goes some way to bringing you back to baseline (70-80% normal), but to return completely to normal you really need two good nights' sleep.
Sleep hygiene"Using the bedroom for one thing and one thing only helps you sleep"
There are a number of different problems people can have with their sleep patterns. The best way to ensure a good sleep is to follow a number of sleep “hygiene” rules.
Caffeine, and its effects on sleep, is something that most people are aware of. You may be suprised to learn that caffeine only inhibits sleep in a percentage of the population.
Apparently everyone metabolises caffeine differently and around a third of the population have their senses heightened by caffeine, another third it has no effect and the rest caffeine can actually make them sleepy. In general it is good advise to avoid it for at least 4 hours before going to bed.
Alcohol is another good topic. It does help you get to sleep but doesn’t help you stay asleep or give you a good quality of sleep. As with caffeine it can break your sleep by making you get up in the middle of the night to visit the toilet.
Using the bedroom for one thing and one thing only helps you sleep. No watching TV in bed, no eating in bed and certainly no computers in bed!
Getting into a routine is the best way to improve your sleep patterns. Try and go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time. Unfortunately this may mean getting up every morning at 5am whether you are going for that early morning bike or not.
As for medication to help you sleep, it is always best to try and avoid if possible. Generally they only work for a few days before your body gets used to and dependent on them and the quality of sleep when taking sleeping tablets is less than optimal.
There are a few natural remedies that have been popularised recently. The main one is hops. They can work very well but you aren’t always the most popular bedroom companion when the bedsheets smell constantly like a brewery.
How about having a daytime nap? Daytime naps work but they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. It is a good idea if you are napping to have a set routine and try to finish your nap before 2pm in order not to adversely affect your ability to sleep that night. It is common to feel groggy and tired after your mid morning nap.
So how can sleep impact athletic performance?
There have been numerous studies showing sleep deprivation can negatively affect your athletic ability. Sleep deprivation and how it effects athletic performance is not completely understood, but it is known that sleep deprivation increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol and decreases the levels of the recovery hormone - growth hormone. 1
Sleep deprivation has been shown to decrease your aerobic performance and increase the perceived rate of exertion for any given workload.
There is now new research showing that extra sleep can further improve your athletic performance.2
Sleep provides a number of benefits to the athlete. Firstly, during sleep, growth hormone is released. This is responsible for muscle growth, repair and recovery. It also stimulates fat burning and bone building.
Sleep is also used by the body to improve learned neural pathways. This helps progress your skill sessions on the bike with cementing of the muscle co-ordination and firing pathways.3
Sleep deprivation has been shown to be cumulative. If you get 15 mins less than you need each night this will snowball over time with increasing daytime tiredness and decreased athletic performance.
How about the night before the race?
Interestingly, if you are well rested and “caught up” on your sleep in the lead up to a race the night before doesn’t matter very much. Your body is able to deal with one restless night much better than a number of smaller sleep disturbances in the days prior.
If you wake up in the middle of the night and take 10-15 minutes to get to sleep every night you are doing well. Practice good sleep hygiene and if all else fails try some hops.
Any and all information obtained on roadcycling.co.nz should not be taken as a recommendation for treatment of any particular person or patient. Should you think that you, or any other individual, might require treatment for one of the conditions described here, please seek the advice of a qualified physician or doctor. Please be advised that using the information provided here in no way means that a doctor-patient relationship has been established between you and the author of the information provided on this website.
Other articles by Dr Armstrong
About Dr Stuart Armstrong.......
Dr Armstrong is an avid triathlete. He has completed 5 Ironman distance races to date, as well as representing NZ at the World Long Course Championships in 2009.
He is also the founder and owner of Elite Race Rentals which rents the latest Zipp race wheels and Powertap training wheels. Be prepared to rip up the road like the pros. Just think of those minutes melting off your bike time.
Tweet Follow @roadcycling
Support RoadCycling.co.nz Advertisers