The Importance of a Sleep Routine to the Cyclist – A Coach’s Point of View

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Charlotte Backus

A Team Twenty24 esports pro and Coach emphasizes the importance of a proper sleep routine for optimizing cycling recovery and performance.

We often choose to skip or cut off sleep.  Maybe we are in a time crunch to study, work, or train.  Other times we merely want to relax and watch a movie, and our busy schedules leave no time.

 

Sleep is vital for restoration and the body’s ability to adapt and recover both mentally and physically. You will notice after a couple of nights when you don’t sleep enough that you tend to be more forgetful, more tired, and kind of in a fog throughout the day.

 

It becomes easy to fall into a vicious cycle. The following is my tip to you.  Start getting into a routine if you struggle to get to bed in time to allow a good 7.5-8 hours of sleep a night.

 

That will begin to condition your body that it’s quiet time and you are ready for a sound slumber. There are a few routines you can create to remind your body that it’s ni-night time.

dog sleeping in front of a bike

Setting the Groundwork for a Healthy Sleep Routine

1- Pass on the late-night snack.

It’s tempting to grab a nice late-night dessert right before you go to bed, but it may be bad for your sleep.  It is a process to break down food.  It interferes with your body’s release of the sleep hormone melatonin and hinders the feeling of getting tired and ready to sleep.

 

If you like to snack after dinner as I do, pick a snack higher in protein content and enjoy it 1-2 hours before you hit the hay.  Unlike sugary snacks, protein slows digestion and eating it several hours before bedtime minimizes the risk of difficulty falling asleep.  

 

If you opt for a higher carb/sugar snack, that can cause a spike in your insulin levels, making you feel more energetic before slumber, minimizing the easy effort to go to sleep.

 

The same goes for drinking a lot of liquid before bed.  It will make you run to the bathroom during the night, which can disrupt a good night’s rest.

person sleeping with blanket pulled over head
2- Dim the lights.

Especially the blue lights. You ignite melatonin production by turning down the lights, making you feel tired and ready to go to bed for a night of restorative sleep.

 

Also, change the blue screen on your phone to a more neutral yellow.  Blue light blocks the production of melatonin because it mimics the first morning light. Preset your phone to engage in night mode at 6 pm.

person sleeping with head on computer
3- Bed is bed!

It is convenient and comfortable to lay in bed and study or watch movies, do crafts, and snack, but the bed is a place for sleep.  If you save your bed for nighttime relaxation and sleep, your body will become conditioned to the bedtime ritual.  

 

 

When you lay your head, your body will know that it’s time to rest and restore from the day.  Not time to concentrate on what’s going on or what plans you have for tomorrow, among other thoughts that cause more distress than rest. 

4- Hear that sound?

If you are a light sleeper who finds yourself waking up with the faintest noise, a white noise machine or app will do the trick.  

 

The consistent background sound will minimize the random noise that is more likely to wake you up. You can even use a fan or other device that creates a low but steady sound.

kitten sleeping on back
5- Keeping it cool!😎

Our bodies like coolness when sleeping, so if you can, 65 Degrees F is an ideal comfortable temperature.  The cool temperature helps the body ease into a more restful state and rapidly hit the vital REM stage (Rapid Eye Movement).

6-Caffeine

We all metabolize caffeine differently, but one thing is for sure, it creates a restless sleep. Caffeine targets and binds to adenosine receptor sites.

 

Adenosine is a hormone that allows your body to prepare for sleep and feel tired. When we use caffeine, it blocks those receptors.  We are pulling future energy to help us keep going.

 

It’s pretty cool, but it can hinder your ability to feel tired and get a whole night’s rest. Therefore, you want to cut off caffeine consumption at least 5-7 hours before bedtime to allow for it to wear off and you to have a good night’s rest.

person sleeping with covers over face
7- Yes! You saw it coming, ALCOHOL!

Some of us love a good beer or a glass of wine with dinner or before bedtime.   But alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant.

 

It causes brain activity to slow down, causing a bit of a sedative effect. That’s good for sleep, right?  It might help you become tired in the short run, but alcohol inhibits restful sleep as liver enzymes process the alcohol.

 

Alcohol also hinders later, more deep sleep stages and makes you feel more exhausted and less rested over time. Of course, an occasional drink is ok, but be prepared to get to bed on time the following day to restore and get back to normal.

dog sleeping

Last but not least!

8- Create THAT routine!

A ritual or plan to give your body a regular reminder that it’s time to sleep. You will form a habit by combining some of the earlier methods I mentioned or having meditation or quiet time.

 

Anything that will create a ritual pattern at a similar time every night will tell your body to release melatonin and begin to make you feel drowsy automatically.  

 

An excellent way to get into a successful routine is to designate 30 minutes of downtime before you plan to go to bed.  In addition, I plan to go to bed and wake at approximately the same time each day.

 

Your body loves consistency, and a solid sleep routine is no different.

Here is an Example of the Routine I Use and Recommend To My Athletes

6 pm: Dinner, then dim the lights and set your phone to night mode.

 

8 pm: Have a quick snack, finish up your stuff for the day, and watch or read something light and fun to put you into quiet mode. Set your bedroom thermostat to a cool temperature that is comfortable for you.

 

9:30 pm: Downtime. Read a book, journal, meditate, brush teeth, get into your PJs. Time to get the body ready to rest. Then head to bed and turn on the sound machine.

 

9:45 pm: Lights out and time to go to sleep.

 

6:30 am: Wake up slowly and give the body time to adjust.

 

6:45 am: Get out of bed and ease into your morning get-ready routine.

 

7 am: Have some coffee, caffeine, tea, your choice. Give your body at least 30 minutes to fully wake before abruptly jumping into anything. Allow the melatonin to leave your system and cortisol to do its thing. You will wake up naturally and be ready for a full restorative day!

Signs You Need More Sleep

If you’re tired it’s clear that you aren’t getting enough rest.  It isn’t the only sign that you’re experiencing sleep loss. Sleep deprivation can affect the entire body, so you probably need more sleep if you have any of the following symptoms.

1. You Fall Asleep Right Away

Falling asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow is a bad sign.  It should take you between 10 and 20 minutes to fall asleep each night.  If you fall asleep faster, it is a major red flag for chronic sleep deprivation and exhaustion.

 

It is interesting to note, if it takes you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, it’s also a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep.

2. You’re Dehydrated

Lack of sleep has a dehydrating effect. The combination is a significant state of affairs for the cyclist whose performance, recovery, and general health depend on being adequately hydrated and well-rested.

 

A recent study found that short sleep duration was associated with an increased risk of inadequate hydration.

 

Our body releases the hormone vasopressin during late sleep periods to prevent dehydration. Disrupted sleep effects when this hormone is released, making you more vulnerable to dehydration.

3. You Make Unhealthy Food Choices

Sleep deprivation causes weight gain.  Poor sleep increases the production of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin and reduces leptin production, which tells your body when it’s satisfied.

 

When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more likely to snack throughout the day, crave high-calorie junk food, and are less likely to exercise.

4. You Experience Anxiety or Feel Uneasy

Sleep and mental health share a cyclical relationship. When you feel anxious, it is more difficult to sleep restfully.  If you don’t get enough sleep, it can leave you feeling anxious and stressed out.

 

Sleep disorders contribute to many conditions of mental health. It would help if you got sufficient REM sleep.  Without it, your brain cannot process emotional information, and it influences your mood, memory, and concentration.

 

Your overall health and wellness, mentally and physically, are closely related to your sleep health.  By focusing your attention on the one, you can also improve your quality of life in other areas.

Conclusion

Endurance athletes, and cyclists in general, are routine-oriented.  We plan our schedule in advance to allow for work and family priorities to leave time for training.  In order to be successful in all of these areas, we must be organized, set goals, and have the motivation and discipline to stick to them.

 

Sleep is no different.  In order to develop solid sleep habits, a routine is essential.  Success in sleep requires a similar level of dedication.  Since sleep is vital to our overall well-being, in addition to performance and recovery, emphasizing sleep hygiene is vital.

 

Create a healthy sleep routine and add it to your list of important things to do.  You will rest easier knowing that you did.

Your thoughts?

What do you do to ensure that you get the rest you need and deserve?  Comment below.  Your fellow virtual cyclists want to know.   

 

For more great tips on how to improve your cycling enjoyment and performance check out the Training & Performance page on The ZOM!  

Sources:

 

 Nutt, D., Wilson, S., & Paterson, L. (2008). Sleep disorders as core symptoms of
        depression. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 10(3), 329–336.
        
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181883/

 Daut, R. A., & Fonken, L. K. (2019). Circadian regulation of depression: A role for
        serotonin. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 54, 100746.
        
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yfrne.2019.04.003

Charlotte Backus

Charlotte is a pro cyclist for Team Twenty24 specializing in eSports, road, and gravel who rolls out of Park City, Utah.  Charlotte is a USA Cycling and Training Peaks coach who has a certification in Sports Nutrition and a degree in Psychology. In addition to multiple research publications on Sports Psychology and sleep-related HRV.

Charlotte W. Backus

Park City, Utah 84098

 

B.A. Psychology

Certified Advanced Sports nutrition

 

Level 1 Training Peaks coach

Level 2 USAC Coach

 

Exquisite Endurance Coaching

exquisiteendurancecoaching.com

 

Road, Gravel, E-sports (ZWIFT) Cyclist: (Twenty24)

For more great coaching tips check out the Coaching page on The ZOM!

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