I often get asked, as will lots of coaches, what are the biggest / quickest / best ways to make key improvements in my performance?
You may be thinking its about complex training algorithms, diet, investing in some new supersonic piece of kit (*yes stuff we, and I have all done!), But I wager there is one much bigger aid, that costs nothing, its available to EVERYONE no matter who you are and its scientifically proven to benefit.
SO what is this ‘wonder’ aid I hear you ask?!
Simply its SLEEP , and lots of it! Yesterday (Sunday 8th April) I raced one of my favourite ‘proper’ Time Trial races, The Circuit of the Dales in Yorkshire. This is some course, 50.8miles to begin with, climbs near 3500ft and travels through some stunning parts of the North Yorkshire Countryside. It starts in Ingleborough, takes a circuitous route to Kirby Lonsdale then Sedburgh, Hawes via Garsdale Head, then over Ribblesdale Head for a long fast (depending on the headwind!) finish outside Ingleborough.
The map says it all. Anyway the preceding few weeks I have to be honest I have been struggling, I have been training hard, my performances have been very hit & miss and frankly I’ve been personally underperforming what I know I can do both in race results & numbers. I entered ‘race week’ exhausted and had a very busy and stressful work week. In all honesty my head was anything but in race mode. I didn’t even check the start sheet until Saturday evening when I’d talked myself into racing it! By Friday it was clear I needed copious sleep, so 2 x 8pm in bed Friday and Saturday, good food and minimal training I woke on race day a new man! And i could tell. I felt great in the race, I hit the best ever sustained power over the period of time I have done before, I had my best race time on this course by a clear 7 minutes. It all worked!
Afterwards I was talking in the HQ with fellow Peaks Athlete Rebecca Rimmington who rode an AWESOME Women’s race to win in a new Course Record Bex SMASHES the CR in the Circuit of the Dales. This was really a stunning ride by Bex after her 10m TT win last week. Bex amazes me! She is so dedicated, so BUSY with work, coaching and training, her cat Morris and better half Awesome road / Track & TT racer Si Wilson yet she continues to churn out amazing training and results. Bex has years of focussed training and knows her body, knows when to push, when to back off and when to rest and recover. This is key to success.
It was also good to catch up with some long standing friends and fellow racers in HQ, I was talking to Ged Millward & Doug Hart of Otley CC, and we got onto talking about ‘sleep’. Ged was asking what I’d be writing about next on this page, It came to me half way through the race.. Now maybe I wasn’t focussing enough on the task in hand – but anyway!
Intrinsically I know, as do many athletes I am sure, how much better we are with good sleep, separately last week another Peaks athlete who had been struggling following a busy work & travel window reported how great he felt after a fab nights sleep in a recent training session, again proving what we know.
But what does ‘science’ say? We all know (i Think?!) that the recommended sleep for an ‘adult’ is 7-9 hours, this is key time for our body to repair mentally and physical from the stress and strains of the day. How does this differ for athletes?
There has been quite a lot of research into this field, and athletes are recommended to aim for 10hrs sleep – now this is no mean feat working full time, juggling the family commitments – but its certainly worth shooting for #freespeed.
There are 2 really important stages Non- REM sleep – where we synthsize , mentally, new information from the day, it may be training tips, race analysis, we analyse and store it . Then REM sleep is where the physical ‘magic’ happens, During deep sleep, (REM SLEEP) the body regulates levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. When cortisol levels reach higher than normal, it impacts the body’s ability to digest glucose at best and lead to coronary heart disease or diabetes at worst. The inability to process glucose for sleep deprived athletes was similar to effects experienced by elderly individuals. Endurance is directly tied to the body’s ability to metabolize and synthesize glucose for later use as fuel during races and events that last beyond 90 minutes.
Sleep deprivation, reduces reaction times the same as having a blood alcohol level of 0.05mg/litre! It puts us at higher risk of injury, impacts mood, stress levels & focus, but i found this study most interesting.
a 2013 study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine tracked 80 Major League Baseball players over 3 seasons. They tracked their sleep habits against the Epworth sleepiness scale, Players who scored high for sleepiness were less than 40% likely to still be playing top flight baseball 3 season later, yet those who scored low were 72% more likely to be.
There is countless amounts of literature and , you know yourself, anecdotal evidence to back this up. But its not easy with the busy and increasingly busy lives we all lead – But if you want to know what the biggest, cheapest and easiest to implement performance aid is I think you cant go far wrong with focussing on quality sleep!