Sleep Cycles for Cycling Performance with Tempur
This post is in conjunction with TEMPUR® but is editorially independent.
TEMPUR® sponsor pro cycling team Drops Le-Col, one of my favourite women’s pro teams who I had the privilege of racing in the Tour Series in 2017.
I love sleep. A strange statement perhaps, from such a non-stop fidgety active person as myself but an entirely truthful one. I’m neither a night owl or an early riser; I’m a hibernator.
I look forward to bedtime and I don’t want to get up.
Give me more, give me better, give me all the sleep and I’m happy. And if I don’t have to get up – even better.
But of course, as a cyclist, sleep isn’t just about enjoyment for me; good sleep is as critical a part of my lifestyle as the hours I put in on the bike. Better sleep makes you a faster cyclist. And just as I enjoy knowing everything I possibly can about maximising the benefits of my training, I’ve zoomed in on the process of sleep to better understand it and ensure I’m getting the most out of the precious time I have.
Using an in-depth training, fitness and sleep tracking device called Whoop, I’ve been able to experiment to see exactly what impacts my sleep and to take control of this important aspect of my training. Diving deep into the data, I can analyse the amount of time I’ve spent in each Sleep Stage and see the effect on my performance both on the bike and off it. Doing this has made me starkly see the consequences of the choices I make during the day and how it affects my Sleep Cycles.
What are Sleep Cycles and why are they important?
There are two kinds of sleep, REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non REM sleep. Each night you cycle through both several times over in a series of stages or Sleep Cycles. Your heartrate and brain waves behave differently depending on which of the five stages of sleep your experiencing (which is how sleep tracking works). All have their own purpose.
The first stage of light sleep when you’re drifting off, this short period of non-REM sleep is characterised by the slowing of your heart rate, breathing and eye movements whilst your body relaxes.
Another period of non-REM sleep, this stage sees further slowing of heartrate and breathing accompanied by the slowing of brain wave activity. Body temperature decreases.
Non-REM deep sleep begins. With your muscles fully relaxed and blood pressure lower than usual, the body focuses on healing. This is the deep sleep you need to feel recovered the next day.
The final stage of non-REM sleep, during this deep sleep stage we become harder to wake. With increased bloody supply to the muscles we repair tissue damaged by training and the immune system is boosted.
This REM sleep is where our brain is most active, potentially processing the experiences of the day before, though no one can be entirely certain. This stage of sleep is crucial for formation of memory.
How best to maximise sleep and recovery?
I’m going to be honest here and tell you that in the past I didn’t have a great deal of money. Therefore, I had a really budget mattress and replacing it didn’t seem that important. I just figured my body was a little sore at night because of all the training I did.
When I finally upgraded, I discovered that skimping on a decent mattress and pillow was a false economy in the long run because without the best sleep, I wasn’t actually maximising my potential. Put it this way; with better, more comfortable sleep I became more productive – literally overnight.
Through sleep tracking, I’ve discovered all the other things that impact my sleep so now I’m able to take steps to avoid them, depending on my priorities for the day (or the following day.) We all know that using your phone in bed is a no-no if you want to sleep week but did you know about these other things?
Here’s what you need to avoid if you want to sleep well and perform your best on the bike.
- Honestly, I was shocked when I saw the impact of just one drink on my Sleep Cycles so now I weigh up the pros and cons of that beer a little more carefully.
- I always sleep with an eye mask, particularly in summer. I bet that even if you think you’re not affected by small amounts of light creeping in your window, you actually are. Get one!
- Stress, though tiring, actually makes it harder to sleep. I’ve started using the mindfulness app Headspace and have found that just ten minutes a day is enough to help me sleep better at night. And let’s face is, ten minutes a day is a small but worthy investment to make in yourself,
- Exercise before bed. This is unavoidable sometimes – occasionally the only way I can train is indoors on the Wattbike after my daughter has gone to bed. The impact on my sleep lasts all night long – I find it harder to drop off and feel hot, fidgety and restless all night. Magnesium supplements and/or SIS Sleep Plus, which contains tart cherry juice do seem to help a little but essentially, I know that if I do a hard training session or even worse, a Zwift race in the evening then my sleep will suffer. So, I try to adjust my training accordingly.
- A hot bedroom is a no-no. I leave windows open on each side of the house for an hour or two before bedtime to create a through draft that cools the place down. Pay attention to your choice of mattress – some cheap memory foam mattresses are very hot so opt for a quality mattress from a reputable firm like TEMPUR®. TEMPUR®’s mattress material is unlike any other and will help you sleep longer, better and more comfortably.
- When it’s absolutely scorching, consider a ‘cold water bottle.’ I’ve been known to put a large bottle of water in the freezer then take it to bed wrapper in a tea towel. Sounds strange I know, but it’s pretty effective!
TEMPUR® are sponsors of Drops-Le Col, helping the women’s cycling team achieve at the highest level, the athletes receiving mattress and pillow for use both at home and away. Therefore ‘performance can be maintained by riders no matter the location.’
“Sleep is a fundamental tool to support our riders in improving their performance and we’re encouraging riders to invest in sleep and recovery as much as they do in training. With TEMPUR®’s world-class products and its brand expertise, we couldn’t be better equipped.” – Drops-Le Col