Good Athletes Train Hard – Great Athletes Rest Hard. Part II

By Coach Jo Freil.

More from super coach Jo, in regard to the importance of sleep for athletes and cycling Athletes. Sleep hard to train harder.

   “One thing I seldom pass up in the daily bustle is sleep. In Part 1 on this topic I railed against athletes having so many responsibilities in their lives that they have to cut out something, and that, unfortunately, is usually sleep.

As explained in Part 1, giving up time in bed means a reduction in your adaptive response to training. That means you don’t reap the full fitness benefits of the day’s workout. It’s during sleep that the good stuff you want happens. Your fitness increases as naturally occurring anabolic (“tissue-building”) hormones are released. This is why I often say that hard workouts don’t make you more fit—they only produce the potential for increased fitness. It’s during recovery, especially sleep, that this occurs.

Hormones are released in waves in certain sleep cycles during the night. There are several repeating cycles as you doze. The two that seem to be most productive, as far as increased fitness due to hormone release, are the rapid-eye movement (REM) and deep sleep cycles. These are when scientists who study sleep agree that tissue-building hormone production is greatest resulting in adaptation to the physical stresses you experienced that day. REM sleep seems to be especially critical. It happens about every 90 minutes to two hours and lasts only a few minutes at a time making up perhaps 20 to 25 percent of your sleep time—if you have a full night of sleep. And, curiously, REM sleep appears to occur mostly late in sleep—in the final hours before you wake up. So artificially shortening your sleep with an alarm early in the morning may well be costing you fitness. A portion of the previous day’s workout was for naught.

All of this is why, when I was coaching, I urged my clients to get as much sleep as they could. Adequate sleep means greater fitness and that means improved race performance and, therefore, goal achievement.

And I should make one other important point here. A common thought among athletes is that they can cut their short sleep Monday through Friday and then “catch-up” on the weekends. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t hold hormones in reserve for a few days and then release them in larger quantities later on. The daily opportunities were simply lost. It’s good to sleep on the weekends, but that doesn’t mean everything having to do with adaptation is therefore going to balance out for the week. It was just lost opportunities.

So how do you know if you’re getting enough siesta time? If you are waking up naturally—no alarm clock—then you are probably doing pretty well in regards to the benefits of sleep. That probably means around seven hours in the sack. But if you’re like most of the athletes I coached over the years, you’d like to see the data that supports this assumption. The best I have found is a device called Emfit QS. It measures and reports your nightly sleep-cycle durations and much more, such as total sleep time, heart rate patterns throughout the night, heart rate variability, breathing patterns, sleepless movement, and more. All of this appears on your smart phone once you are out of bed for the day.