Sleep Is Your Superpower

 

Photo by Alexander Possingham on Unsplash

The clocks they are a-changing.

Sorry Bob Dylan. That’s not quite what you sang.

With the clocks changing this weekend, it's a prime time to look at your sleep. Is it working for you and supporting your Epic Cycling Lifestyle?

If you've worked with me one-one-one you know I always say get your sleep habits dialed-in. Better sleep equals better performance. In fact, you could see a 2% to 5% boost in performance when you improve your sleep.

So, what does dialed-in sleep look like?

  1. You can build your own four point sleep performance program by
  2. Knowing about circadian rhythms
  3. Anchoring your wake-up time
  4. Understanding your sleep cycles
  5. Being aware of your sleep chronotype.

Let’s talk first about circadian rhythms.

We are biological creatures of our environments. And evolution is s-l-o-w.

If left without any form of modern energy, we would only have fire to light our morning and evening hours. In the grand scheme of human evolution, we’ve had electric light for but a few thimbles of time in an ocean of evolution. We are biologically wired to wake and sleep by sunrise and sunset.

Modern life will never let us do that again.

But we can accept some evolution back into our lives. This means respecting the circadian rhythms our bodies still crave. You see, daylight … specifically blue spectrum light … inhibits melatonin production. Melatonin is your natural sleep-inducing hormone.

Respecting evolution means getting light into your retinas. A good dose of blue spectrum light, early in your day after waking, primes you for action. That will set your body off on its proper circadian wakefulness cycle. Think about eating your breakfast in front of a 10,000 lux full spectrum light box for about 30 minutes.

At the other end of your day, avoid such blue light. According to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, blue light exposure can suppress melatonin by more than 50%. Most all our artificial light sources contain blue light, especially phone and computer screens. In our pre-electric lives, we would have had fireside chats to illuminate the final hours of our day. Find your own end-of-day wind down routine without so much artificial light pouring into your eyes. Sleep will come easier.

The second sleep performance factor is the 90 minute sleep cycle we go through. Healthy restorative sleep links five to six of these cycles together.

Even though sleep studies haven’t discovered all the physiological benefits of sleep, we do know it’s necessary. Every mammal still sleeps. It must provide deep advantages from such a vulnerable state.

As your day wears on, you feel the urge to sleep grow and grow. Your melatonin production helps with that. The longer you put it off, the stronger that urge builds. It can become so strong that you fall asleep during critical activities like watching Netflix um, driving.

Then once asleep, you’ll sleep in 90 minute cycles. From light sleep to deep sleep to Rapid Eye Movement (REM) dreaming sleep then back up to light sleep. The ideal time to wake up is in the REM to light sleep transition. You’ll feel far less groggy then.

We each have slightly different cycle lengths. Most of us fall in the 90 minute window. So, unless you have a lot of personal data to back it up, accept and start working with a 90 minute cycle.

Then build your sleep duration around multiples of this 90 minute cycle. The seven to nine hour sleep recommendation drives from accepting five to six sleep cycles for healthy restorative sleep.

What about average people doing average things? Think about five cycles. Athletes doing heavy training should think about six sleep cycles. This equates to 7-1/2 or 9 hours each night with 90 minute sleep cycles.

The third sleep performance factor is your sleep rhythm or chronotype. You may know this as lark-type morning people, or night owls. Which are you?

Most of us are morning, or moderate morning people. We enjoy getting things done earlier in our days. That’s not to say everyone functions like this.

Night owls do better staying awake a little later and getting up later. But their numbers are very few in our population.

On the other hand, there’s nothing magical about trying to live like a super-lark waking at 4am. All the “early bird gets the worm” sayings in society are folklore. Most Canadians get up between 6:30 and 7:00. I'm sure you can do the same.

There’s a well-tested lab survey to help pinpoint your own chronotype. It's called the Morningess-Eveningness Questionnaire and was developed in 1976. Here’s an open-source version that gives you some excellent feedback about the start and end-of-day times based on your chronotype: https://chronotype-self-test.info/index.php

Finally, the strongest habit everyone, racers and riders alike, should do is anchor their wake-up time every day of the week. Hold fast to the same wake-up time including weekends.

Choose the start time for your day. Give respect to your chronotype and how much flexibility your job gives you. Like I said earlier, for most of us that’ll be between 6:30 and 7:00.

Then count back your desired five or six sleep cycles in 90 minute increments. That’s your standard bedtime, every day of the week.

Those occasional days when you stay up late? Don’t go to bed when you can. Wait for the next start to a sleep cycle and hit the hay then. That might drop you down to 4 sleep cycles, which is ok for a day, maybe two. But make a point to return to your regular sleep time to support your anchored wake time as soon as possible.

That’s your four-point sleep performance program. Respect your chronotype as much as possible when organizing your day and its wake-up time. Anchor your wake-up time for every day of the week, including weekends. Use blue light strategically with your circadian rhythm. Do some self-experimentation. Discover whether five or six 90-minute sleep cycles support you with day-long energy. You could find yourself working smarter and have more energy for your workouts.

The “fall back” on our clocks is here. You’ll have the perfect opportunity to play around with a schedule that works best for you.