My main event this year is an endurance ride (~750 miles) that involves riding through two days and nights. What’s the best protocol to “acclimate” to sleep deprivation so that I can ride on minimal (if any) sleep? Has anyone seen much in the way of studies or even anecdotal advice on “training” for the sleep deprivation aspect of an event like this, either leading up to or during the event?
Note: I’m not looking to train in a chronically sleep-deprived state; more looking for advice on how to mitigate the effects of sleep deprivation during the event, perhaps similar to the way one might heat acclimate or train for riding at elevation.
The best thing you can do is start your event well rested with quality sleep beforehand. It can certainly help to find out what the minimum sleep is that you can reasonable perform on. But you never get acclimated to sleep deprivation, you just get a better idea of where your limits fall.
For me, 4 hours every 24 hours is the ideal minimum to maintain performance over 7 or more days. I can get away with 2.5 hours sleep, but it’s not ideal.
Some would ride 750 miles without any sleep at all. But that person isn’t me.
It’s also important to separate feeling sleeping in the few hours before dawn and sleep deprivation. If the sleepiness before dawn goes away when the sun rises, that’s just your body’s natural rhythm, if you are still sleepy then it’s sleep deprivation kicking in.
If you find yourself having micro sleeps on the bike then it’s time to stop and find somewhere to have a dose. This can be a field, a bus shelter, a church porch; whatever is in the vicinity. Even a 20 minute nap can be enough to restore alertness to get you to a better location for a longer sleep.
If you do not already, have a kid. That will give you a very deep understanding of sleep deprivation and where the line is between “this is fine. I am fine…sort of” and “why are there cartoon deer in my yard and when did I put on shoes?” Best training for sleep deprivation I tell you. Organic, and the training plan lasts for years. LOL.
In all seriousness, you probably do not want to train specifically for deprivation. The toll and effects it has on multiple aspects of your body and health is pretty detrimental. Even in the military they throw meds at you for things that require it.
If you HAD to train it, I would perhaps try training on interrupted sleep. So like waking up and forcing yourself to like light zone 2 (or even recovery) in the middle of your normal sleep schedule. Do this on the trainer, to avoid complicated and potentially hazardous situations. If you are a coffee/caffeine drinker normally, go without it. That will perhaps mimic some of the mental and physical state in terms of fatigue and lack of mental sharpness/clarity.
Still would recommend against it and you would likely be better off using the above to know what it feels like when you hit the deprivation wall so to speak to allow for identification of that same feeling when you are on the bike. Just rest up a lot before hand and try to regiment your schedule of activites during the event by a time block (distance can be hard as you may not meet it as you become increasingly fatigued and sleep deprived). Good luck!
I agree that there’s nothing more to say than “don’t”; however, since the question was raised, I’ll add that reading Why We Sleep has had a profound [positive] impact on my life. While there are times we really can’t avoid it (e.g. having kids), depriving yourself of sleep for training sounds like absolutely the worst thing you could possibly do. That book, though, might also give you some hints about ways you could mitigate the sleep deprivation during the event – i.e. how much you could get by on and how to structure that.
I will add, don’t neglect riding in the dark. Have your nutrition dialed but be prepared to deviate. Chances are pretty good you won’t be able to stick to whatever nutrition plan you put to paper before hand so make sure you’re ready to navigate that.
As the others have said, the best thing to do is go in well rested, meaning if a good night sleep for you is 8 hours, do your best to get 8 hours a night for a few nights in a row leading up to the race if you can, ideally a week, you certainly don’t want to go in already tired physically or mentally.
Don’t try and train in a sleep deprived state, I don’t see much to gain from that. But, at the same time if you’ve never ever gone 36-48 hours without sleep, I do suggest trying to stay up for 30-36 hours just to see what it feels like. Hint, not great. The ability to continue operating in a sleep deprived state is more mental than physical I find.
24 hours is easy, the longer you go after that the more challenging it gets. You’ll experience waves of complete exhaustion followed by second, third, fourth, etc. winds.
Make sure you stay hydrated and splashing water on your face and head (if you have access to extra water) as that briefly revives you from the brain fog that builds. Also, make sure you have a good grasp of your fuel choices, because excessive sleep deprivation can lead to nausea at times.
If you do sleep, 60-90 minutes is great and you’ll be surprised how a small amount of sleep can really make you feel much better after you are feeling like absolute dog crap from exhaustion. Also remember it’s always darkest before the dawn, in this case literally for how you’ll feel at this time. Most people’s circadian rhythms push their body systems to slow down hard between 3am and 5am (longer if there’s no light). If you are going to sleep, that’s a good window to do it in.
All great advice here, one thing I’d add is test your caffeine tolerance and timing before the event. I’m sensitive to caffeine, and in a similar distance event, I used caffeine without a plan (via gels) but after about 48 hrs it started to make me nauseous. Now, I plan the timing of the caffeine (for me I take it around an hour before dusk, then about 1am and 6am) and that sees me through about 36 hrs. After that, I try to get 4ish hrs sleep every 24 hrs…but have had to take 10min naps next to my bike to quickly refresh.
Thanks for the very thoughtful responses, all. And yes @GoLongThenGoHome, the event is PBP. The last few times I rode it without much of a plan. I’m trying to see if I can do something different this time. We’ll see if it pans out.
Hey, @patch-tt. My approach was to start getting up at 2am or 3am and doing long rides. Like 70 to 100 mile rides. That was step one. I did this because grizzled vets told me the midnight-witching hour was the toughest part. Sunrise is a burst of morale. Sunsets can be inspirational…but your going to be cold, lonely, and at your lowest point during the witching hour.
Step two was to compete in a 12hr TT that started at midnight. That gave me a real competition level feel for endurance riding through the night. By this point, there were no more equipment surprises.
The last step was qualifying for RAAM, winning nat champ, and setting course record.
But I’ve never done more than ~26 hours straight. So I’m not sure how that 2nd night would have gone. I probably would have had to take some clothes off and sleep for 40 minutes at some point.
No expertise (I love my sleep). I have done some offshore sailboat racing where we stood 4 hour watches. I did get better at falling asleep quickly at odd times and getting up and getting going after being awakened from a deep sleep.
Not sure if you can “train” at being tired but you definitely can get better about making the most of whatever time you do get to sleep, even if its just a cat nap or two and there are huge gains to be made in working on sleep logistics (e.g. finding your shoes in the dark when you wake up.
At PBP 15 I saw a Spanish guy fall asleep on his bike on the third morning as sunrise was coming. Veered across the road and into a deep ditch. Fortunately a soft one. I stopped and clambered down to help rescue him.
Hence my comments about knowing when it’s time to have a dose or sleep and when you are okay to keep going. As well as being pro active you need to be reactive to how sleepy you are getting, and how alert you are.
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