It’s a fact: improved sleep leads to improved recovery after training. And if you can recover quickly as a cyclist, you can stress your body more often with hard training and thus ensure continued improvement. Good sleep comes down to one fundamental thing: making it clear to your body when it’s day and when it’s night. It seems simple, but in reality life gets in the way and it’s all too easy to confuse your body.
Life can be an uphill struggle for the well-intentioned cyclist in every sense. Our lives are filled with distractions that prevent us from syncing our body clocks as ideally as they might.
On paper it seems easy. Get the sun’s rays in your eyes first thing, and wean yourself away from the screens come nighttime. But in reality it’s never so easy. We lead busy lives and distractions and bad habits lurk around every corner. Many of them end up destroying our sleep quality.
As cyclists, it’s important we recover well. And to recover well, we need to sleep well. Here are our 5 tips to help you do just that.
1. LIGHTS OUT MEANS “LIGHTS OUT!”
No more checking Strava segments in bed at night! The blue light from screens and televisions keep you up later by suppressing that all-important hormone called melatonin.
Unfortunately many of us are bathing in this harmful blue light all day long right up until just before bedtime. Make an effort to avoid, or block out blue light in the hours before bedtime. It will have a tremendous impact on your sleep quality.
Sleeping in a dark room is also important. Consider using blackout curtains if you don’t live in the countryside and your room isn’t pitch black.
2. AVOID CAFFEINE IN THE AFTERNOON
Cycling and coffee have a long love affair. Caffeine can be a cyclist’s best friend on the bike, but the worst enemy off it.
If you’re one of those over-indulging, constantly wired caffeine addicts, then you may want to consider cutting back, especially in the afternoon. We all know that coffee perks us up – which is fine in the morning – but it’s not so welcome later in the evening. Set a coffee-cut off time every day. A deadline at which point you won’t indulge another drop. After lunch works well for many.
3. GO-SLOWER SUPPLEMENTS
If you’re a serious athlete you don’t need any encouragement when it comes to supplements that promise to make you faster. But what about supplements to slow you down?
There are some excellent supplements which help improve both your sleep and recovery by regulating hormones like cortisol and melatonin. Supplements such as magnesium, ashwagandha and L-theanine can help relax you. Taken in the evening they help lower cortisol and put you in a relaxed state primed for restful sleep.
Another important supplement is vitamin D. Science has demonstrated the link between a deficiency in this essential hormone and poor sleep quality. With most of the population deficient, it’s well worth testing for it and ensuring you get enough through sunlight or supplementation. Or ideally both.
Finally, the amino acid Tryptophan can be very useful in providing the body the building blocks for melatonin, that all-important sleep-regulating hormone. Tryptophan converts to serotonin, which in turn converts to melatonin. Increased melatonin levels are what help you fall asleep at night.
4. HAVE A SLEEP ROUTINE AND STICK TO IT
We are creatures of habit and our bodies like a certain amount of routine. A great place to start is by ensuring your body clock stays synced at all times.
Try going to bed at roughly the same time each night. Try and wake up at the same time too, even on weekends. This will help your body regulate hormones leading to better sleep and an improved performance on the bike.
Try to engage in relaxing activities before going to bed. Stay away from bright lights, perhaps reading, meditating, gentle yoga or a magnesium bath. This will gradually bring you into that state of relaxation where you’re primed to power into a restful night’s sleep.
5. GET THE MORNING SUN IN YOUR EYES
This one may come easy if you’re already one of those competitive type A cyclists. Waking up with the sun is a powerful way to synchronise your circadian rhythm. Perhaps do that light recovery spin at sunrise rather than later in the morning.
Getting 15-30 minutes of sun exposure first thing in the morning is a powerful way to maximise cortisol release for when you need it most. This will have a knock-on effect in helping ensure you experience that natural decline in cortisol come evening, exactly when you don’t want it.
So when you’re trying to sleep the most amount of hours possible, it’s better to go to bed earlier, rather than lie in in the morning. Swim with the current by going to bed with the sun and waking up with it as well.
SLEEP IS CHEAP
Remember that as a cyclist, any successful effort you make to improve sleep quality will have a knock-on effect in improving both recovery and performance on the bike.
Those simple tricks or supplements that help you sleep deeper improve not only your cycling performance, but also help ensure you put your best foot forward in other walks of life too.