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The Importance of Sleep and Recovery for a Cyclist

Written by Kyle J. Cassas, MD, team physician and Primary Care Sports Medicine Specialist with the Greenville Health System and Steadman Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas

Whether you’re training for an upcoming ride or just trying to fit in a routine workout, sometimes it seems like there’s never enough time in the day to get in the miles. When that happens, some of the most dedicated athletes resort to training in the hours before the sun comes up or after it’s gone down. While that’s okay, it’s important to keep in mind that your riding shouldn’t occur to the detriment of your sleep. Sleep is just as important to your training as nutrition, and the benefits of a good night’s sleep outweigh any extra hour of riding.

Benefits of Sleep

Several studies have shown that sleep is integral to successful athletic performance. For example, in one study, the researchers asked subjects to complete a 30-min treadmill test after a normal night’s sleep, and then do the same task after 30 hours of sleep deprivation. The results showed that those athletes who received better sleep consistently covered more distance than those who did not get a good night’s sleep.

Consequently, a lack of sleep can be detrimental to performance. Getting less than eight hours of sleep increases your likelihood for injury by 170 percent. In addition, sleep deprivation leads to faster time to exhaustion, greater perceived effort, decreased power output, slower reaction time, and worsened short-term memory performance.

Log Those Hours

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine states that adults need seven to nine hours of sleep for the best performance, while adolescents (around 10 to 19 years old) function best with eight to 10 hours of rest. The amount of required sleep differs for each individual depending upon physical activity, stress level, and sleep deprivation. Quality of sleep is also important to consider, as individuals who experience frequent night waking may require more sleep than those who enjoy better sleep continuity.

Researchers at Stanford University found that athletes who slept 10 hours a night experienced better performance, leading to the suggestion that athletes in general may require more sleep than the average individual.

Sleep Aids

According to Thorne, 35 percent of adults do not receive the recommended hours of sleep, and 50 to 70 million Americans chronically suffer from sleep disorders. Athletes may experience trouble sleeping for many reasons, including stress, travel, or unpredictable schedules. In these instances, doctors may recommend a few different treatment options as a supplement to naps. Melatonin is one of the most popular sleep aids, both because it has proven to be effective, and also because it is one of the safest sleep aids. In more dire circumstances, physicians may prescribe sedative-hypnotics such as Ambien or Lunesta.

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