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Sleep and Cycling: Why Sleep is Vital to Recovery

this post is written by Sarah Cummings

In the cycling world, well at least in the pro-cycling world, we unfortunately hear a lot about performance enhancers. But let’s forget about all that EPO and all those dodgy blood transfusions for a moment, there is one performance enhancer you don’t hear much about – sleep.

Sleep is one of the best natural performance enhancers known to man. The best part is, it’s free, it has no negative side-effects and it’s almost impossible to overdose on it, almost!   

If you’re undertaking any kind of exercise, especially cycling it’s absolutely vital to get sufficient sleep. This remains equally true whether you are doing a charity cycle, taking on a tricky mountain descent or cycling all the way from Istanbul to Shanghai. Why? Well, read on below and I will explain a few things.


Pre-trip preparation

Getting enough sleep to conquer whatever cycling adventure you are taking on doesn’t just mean getting enough shuteye when you’re amidst a trip. It means getting enough rest when you’re training beforehand.

In the days, weeks and months of training before the big departure day it’s important to remember that it’s not the hours spent pumping the pedals that actually builds muscle. In actual fact, when you’re training you’re actually tearing muscle fibers apart. It’s when your body is at rest that these fibers are repaired and reinforced, making you stronger and stronger. At rest generally means while you’re asleep.

Clocking up miles and miles on the bike without allowing your body the time to make these essential repairs will mean that your likelihood of injury and your overall physical condition will be worse than had you done absolutely no training at all.

So, don’t go doing something silly like cutting back on sleep to free up extra hours in the day to train more. Sleep is the last thing you want to be cutting back on. In fact, if you’re training for a particularly grueling cycling challenge you should be added more zzzzs to your schedule, either by heading to bed earlier on catching some post-workout power naps.

Chat with any top athletes and they will confirm the importance of augmenting your sleep regime when deep in a tough training regime.

If you have a good, well-thought-out and balanced training regime balanced by sufficient sleep your body will strong and well-conditioned and ready to take any challenges the road may put in front of your wheel.

Fortunately, if you’re doing a fair amount of exercise a day you should have no issues dropping off to sleep. If you do, maybe have a quick look at this article and see what else might be going on.


Sleep and recovery while on a bicycle trip

When studying injury amongst athletes researchers have found that one of the most common predictors is sleep, or to be more exact a lack of it. The link between sleep and injury is even stronger than the link between hours spent on in training and injury.

Short or broken sleep doesn’t provide cyclists with the time their body needs to regenerate cells and repair their muscles from the abuse suffered during the day.

Secondly, when tired the brain lacks the cognitive power to make good decisions, this may be decisions relating to when to push harder, when to lift off, etc, etc. These may not seem critical choices but when you’re involved in any athletic undertaking and pushing your body to the limit, a poor choice can mean the difference between success and injury.

One of the most commonly seen causes of injury is due to a simple lack of energy. When we are tired we feel we often overreach, which overstrains the body resulting in injury.

It’s not just injury through overexertion that you’re at risk at here either. If you’re cycling out on the public road pedaling away you’re going to need as much brain power as possible to keep an eye on all the crazy goings on up ahead, behind and to the side of you. Injury or even worse due to a road traffic accident is a very real concern.

Plus, if knowing when to stop to refuel, take on water and rest are all vital skills when traversing hot and arid lands. The difference between a good day and a terrible, dangerous day, could be a few hours sleep.

And finally, sleep is when the body takes care of important processes relating to the immune system. When we sleep badly these processes are interrupted and our immune system can be become impaired as a result. An impaired immune system leaves us open and more susceptible to picking up viruses such as the cold, the flu or worse. Any of which will severely get in the way of you enjoying your ride.

So dear rider, do yourself a favor, wherever in the world you may be, whatever two-wheeled beast you may be riding and whatever the distance you have in mind, remember one thing – get enough sleep!

Happy biking!

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