Want to gain an extra edge over your competitors?  Want to perform better?  Then you need to get more sleep!

Sleep is a powerful and often underestimated tool that can lead to noticeable changes in performance.  Unfortunately, as a society we value not sleeping and celebrate those who can do a lot of work on little or no sleep.  The theory seems to be that if everyone else is sleeping and you’re working/training, you are gaining an advantage over your opponents.  The opposite is actually true, especially if you are consistently sleep deprived.

What happens when you sleep?

When you sleep, your brain works to process and consolidate your memory and all that you’ve learnt during the day.  If you’ve been reviewing a track or planning for a race, sleep is an important part of helping you to process and remember what you’ve done.  Sleep is also important for restoration and recovery for both your body and your mind and is like putting fuel in a car, a necessary addition if the car is going to keep going!  Neural connections that are important for sending messages around your brain and your body are reinforced and strengthened during sleep, leading to more efficient brain function.

What are the performance benefits of sleep?

The benefits of regularly getting enough sleep include faster and more accurate decision-making under pressure which is crucial in motorsports.  Improved focus and concentration, improved health, better social relationships, increased creativity, faster reaction time, increased alertness and improved memory are further benefits of getting enough sleep that contribute directly or indirectly to improving performance.

What happens if you don’t get enough sleep?

Sleep deprivation or lack of sleep can be dangerous at extremes, especially on a bike.  Smaller decreases in sleep can also interfere with performance.  Reaction time and accuracy of decisions decreases, you become more likely to feel stressed because your body is not functioning at its best and you may experience tremors in your hands.  Other effects include mood swings, anger, irritability, inability to focus, poor decision-making and a tendency to eat or drink unhealthy things.

How do you get good sleep?

The ideal amount of sleep is between 7–9 hours per night with more or less sleep associated with negative effects.  Our bodies like routine and consistency.  Aim to have a sleep routine with a similar bedtime and waking time to help your body develop a good rhythm.  You will find that soon you are naturally waking up at the same time without having to rely on your alarm.  

Screen time should be limited and stopped half an hour before bed, as the light from the screen tells your brain it’s time to wake up.  Breathing exercises or light reading can be a good way to relax.  Avoid doing work or training right before bedtime.  Use power naps (20-30mins) during the day to get an extra boost.  Aim for consistency.

Now, of course the effects of sleep do not replace good quality training, however, getting adequate and consistent sleep can help you to get the best out of your training!

NB This is an article Rachel wrote for Motorcycling Queensland’s eNewsletter that we wanted to share with you…