Training and Nutrition: Importance of sleep to improve performance

Mandatory Credit: Photo by REX/Shutterstock (1304406d) A cyclist enjoys the warm weather in Green Park, London, Britain First warm weather of the year in London, Britain - 06 Apr 2011

Training places stress and overload on nearly all of our body’s systems, including the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, cardiorespiratory and nervous systems. Everytime we train, we’re telling our body it needs to adapt to these new demands; it will only do so if it’s able to recover.

Sleep is often overlooked in the world of endurance sports, with athletes often shortening their sleep so they are able to complete early morning or two-daily training sessions. The problem is that sleep is an essential part of the recovery process and is incredibly important when it comes to maximising your performance.

How much sleep someone needs depends not only on the amount of training being undertaken, but also the demands on life outside of training. On average, most adults require around six to eight hours of sleep per night but we often fall short of this target. Athletes looking to optimise their performance may look for as much as ten hours of quality sleep daily, totalled from both night time and daily power naps.

How sleep can help your cycling performance

Physical Performance – Your sympathetic (stimulatory) nervous system will be in a better state of readiness following a good night’s sleep, giving you the chance to train at a higher intensity. A lack of sleep will also elevate your cortisol levels, your body’s natural stress hormone, which will in turn lessen your overall response to training.

Mental Performance – If you’re tired, this added fatigue will lessen your mental focus along with your motivation and mood. If you sleep well, you’re more likely to bring your A-game when the session gets tough. You will also find your concentration will improve, which could lessen the risk of making bad decisions out on the road or trail.

Reducing injuries and illness – A lack of sleep is proven to put you at a greater risk of getting ill and injured. If you’re not allowing your body time to heal and repair, as it does so efficiently when you sleep, you’ll certainly be working in a less-than-optimal state. This has been shown to supress your immune system and lessens your ability to adapt to training.

There is nothing more frustrating than experiencing poor-quality sleep or simply not being able to sleep. Here are a few tips to help:

1. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed. Depending on your sensitivity, caffeine may stop you getting to sleep and whilst alcohol may initially make you feel tired, it is scientifically proven to disturb your natural sleep patterns resulting in a night of lesser quality rest.

2. Avoid blue-light emitting screens before bed. Blue light found in the display of your smartphones, laptop and tablets actually stimulates your body to stay awake in the same way as the sun. Try turning off your electronic devices along with your TV at least 30-45 minutes before going to bed to create a calm restful environment in your home. It also helps if your bedroom is clutter-free and dark.

3. Partake in relaxing activities before you go to bed. An epsom salt bath will calm the body and relax the muscles and is full of magnesium which has been proven to aid sleep.

4. Quiet the mind. Have a notebook by your bed to write down anything you suddenly remember or may want to do

tomorrow. A ‘To-Do’ list is a way to prioritise and de-stress a busy mind before falling asleep. To further calm the mind, try some light meditation or some diaphragmatic breathing exercises.

5. Keep your bedroom cool to keep in-sync with your body’s natural circadian rhythm. Our body temperatures naturally peak around 7pm then continue to decline through the course of the day, reaching their lowest around 4am. A cool bedroom can help our bodies maintain this natural pattern minimising the risk of a disrupted night’s sleep.

As well as training, lifestyle, job and family commitments can be factors that lead to an individual’s limited or poor sleep. Some of these factors are harder to control than others. It’s absolutely vital we appreciate the power of sleep, especially if you have a big race coming up or simply want to get the best from your training.

Catching up on rest is also a good idea if you have busy weekdays but fewer commitments at weekends. Treat yourself to a well-deserved lie-in or Sunday afternoon power nap and don’t feel guilty about it!

Sweet Dreams!

By Health & Fitness expert James Crossley,
who is working on his ‘Fit at Forty’ Campaign.

For more information, check out @MrJamesCrossley on Twitter or Instagram or visit


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