For sub-elite and elite cyclists who engage in multiple days of intense training, proper recovery strategies are crucial. Among these strategies, sleep stands out as one of the most essential for effective recovery. Unfortunately, many athletes in this population experience sleep restrictions, especially between consecutive days of exercise.
These restrictions not only lead to a decline in performance but also have negative effects on mood and motivation. A recent study published in the Journal of Sleep Research aimed to explore the impact of sleep deprivation on cycling performance, mood, and overall wellness.
To investigate this, the researchers recruited 10 well-trained males that wore an actigraph for 10 consecutive nights to monitor their sleep quality and maintained a sleep diary. Two experimental trials were conducted, separated by at least one week, with the manipulation of sleep quantity in between.
Each trial consisted of two consecutive days of exercise. On Day 1, participants engaged in a 90-minute cycling protocol in the afternoon, while on Day 2, they completed a 30-minute cycling protocol followed by a 30-minute recovery period. The participants experienced both 8 hours and 3 hours of sleep in a counterbalanced order.
The results revealed that the mean power output (PO) during the trials was higher for the control group that had 8 hours of sleep compared to the sleep-restricted group. Sleep restriction led to reduced mean power output during endurance cycling tests, including 4- and 20-minute time trials, as well as decreased sprint performance during 6-second peak power tests. These performance decrements occurred despite no substantial changes in physiological variables such as heart rate and blood parameters.
While physiological measurements did not show significant differences between the two groups, the sleep-restricted group reported significantly reduced total wellness (a combination of fatigue, sleep quality, general muscle soreness, stress, and mood scores) before exercise on Day 2.
It is important to note that the participants were aware of the sleep interventions, which may have influenced the study results. Nevertheless, the findings demonstrated that sleep restrictions of only 3 hours per night between consecutive days of exercise, which mimic typical training and competition schedules, have detrimental effects on cycling performance the following day. These results emphasize the critical role of sleep in exercise performance and overall wellbeing.
“In conclusion, sleep restriction of 3 h/night between consecutive days of exercise, which replicates typical training and competition schedules, negatively affects cycling performance the ensuing day,” the researchers wrote. “In part, this may be due to a downregulation of exercise intensity to maintain similar physiological responses, reduced overall feelings of wellness, and the preconceived idea that sleep restriction will negate exercise performance.”
“The findings suggest that not only is sleep important for exercise performance but, wellbeing, which may also influence cycling performance. Finally, it is suggested that both sprint and endurance cyclists should prioritise sleep as a key recovery strategy during training and competition preparation given the detrimental effects of sleep restriction on performance.”
The study, “Sleep restriction between consecutive days of exercise impairs sprint and endurance cycling performance“, was authored by Blake Dean, Tegan Hartmann, Georgia Wingfield, Penelope Larsen, and Melissa Skein.