By Kevin Kolodziejski
In “Rebellion (Lies),” the indie band Arcade Fire sings what obsessive Type A’s believe: “Sleeping is giving in.” That hitting the sack for more than five or six hours a night makes you a weak-willed slacker.
Turns out the Type A’s and the song are wrong. Sleeping isn’t slacking; it makes you all sorts of strong. Enhances your physical and mental health. Stokes your cycling. (Reduces your odds of crashing your car — and probably your bike, too.)
Habitually skimp on sleep and you do more than suppress your immune system and make it more likely to catch a cold or the flu. You also incrementally increase your risk of stroke, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease, according to The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
A study of over 400,000 adults published in the November 2020 issue of Circulation, for example, found that those with the best sleep habits were 42 percent less likely to have heart failure in the next 10 years when compared to those with the worst.
And don’t forget that insufficient sleep also imperils your health by increasing the odds that you pack on unwanted pounds by creating a hormonal craving for crappy carbs like processed sugar. If you project the results of a week-long study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in January of 2017 over a full year, the insufficient sleepers in the study consume 15,000 more calories and gain 4.1 more pounds than those getting sufficient sleep. A 2013 study performed at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania determined that adults consume about 500 more calories per day when starting it sleep deprived as opposed to well rested.
While those statistics are certainly depressing, so is something that could lead to clinical diagnosis of it: how insufficient sleep sucks the joy out of generally pleasurable feelings. A study published in the October 2020 issue of Sleep found that those who slept 90 to 120 minutes less than normal experienced fewer positive emotions (“less positive affect”) the next day and also acted more impulsively.
A related Johns Hopkins study found healthy women and men whose sleep was interrupted throughout the night had a 31 percent reduction in positive moods the next day. An article published in the October 2013 issue of the Journal of Occupational Health suggests getting to bed early and getting sufficient sleep as a way to avoid depressive mood swings. Moreover, the poster child for insufficient sleep, the insomniac, is 10 times more likely to develop depression than someone who sleeps soundly.
But you’re a cyclist, which really increases your odds of not only avoiding insomnia but also of sleeping soundly each night. A 2013 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found “vigorous” exercisers (and yes, you certainly qualify by their definition) were 172 percent more likely to report “I had a good night’s sleep” than non-exercisers over a two-week period. It’s those “good nights” that lay the foundation for successful riding, for during non-REM sleep your body recovers and repairs itself, ultimately becoming stronger from that day’s ride or alternate exercise.
But are your “good nights” long enough?
Despite health organizations universally suggesting adults sleep 7 to 9 hours a night, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 35 percent of American adults fall short. As a serious cyclists, you probably require even more than that — and you probably don’t get it.
A review of the matter in the 2017 November/December issue of Current Sports Medicine Reports notes “most studies have found that athletes fail to obtain the recommended amount of sleep [despite] accumulating evidence [suggesting] increased sleep duration and improved sleep quality in athletes are associated with improved performance and competitive success.” On a related note, a review published in August 2019 by the International Journal of Sports Medicine cited sleep as “the single most important factor in exercise recovery.”
So how much sleep is enough for a cyclist like you? Eight to 10 hours is the estimate often used, but here’s a test I’ve used with athletes in the past to get more specific than that.
On the first day of your next vacation, go to bed at your normal workday time and don’t set the alarm. Record how long you sleep naturally when you’re not forced to get up to get to your job.
Continue this practice for five days. Use the first three days to insure that you are no longer sleep deprived Then average the amount of time you naturally slept, sans an alarm clock, on days four and five. The average is probably within a few minutes of the amount of sleep you need each night to function at peak efficiency the next day — whether you’re taking a phone call from a client or attacking a sprinter’s hill.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.