Sleep Cycles: A Cyclist's Guide to Good Sleep - Total Women's Cycling

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Sleep Cycles: A Cyclist’s Guide to Good Sleep

Choo choo... all aboard the night train

There’s nothing better than getting a great night sleep, waking up feeling refreshed and ready to roll. So it’s frustrating when you just can’t get that well rested feeling, and it can leave you a little worse for wear.

Adulthood is a series of highs and lows, fails and victories and from time to time, it can get on top of us. When things are weighing you down, sleep is often the one thing you want most, and the one thing you find the hardest to achieve.

However, getting a good sleep is vital for performing at your best, on the bike and in life. A solid 40 winks can improve your memory, reactivity and cognitive functioning. Not only does your mind get a reset, but sleep is a vital part of helping your muscles recover. It’s the time your body uses to repair itself and assimilate your intensive training from that day.

To help you on your way to sleepy town, we bring you our cyclist’s guide to good sleep…

5 Signs you’re sleep deprived

A lack of sleep results in a lot more than a few additional yawns at work. By not allowing your body and mind to get sufficient rest, you’re causing a lot more problems than you think, especially in the long run.

Bad skin

Being overtired can show itself in your physical appearance. A lacklustre expression, pallor complexion, a breakout of spots, and baggy eyes are all very visual signs that you are absolutely shattered.

A lack of sleep can cause your body to secrete an increase in the cortisol hormone, a.k.a the stress hormone. This chemical can results in an excessive amount of sebum being produced, resulting in spots!

Sugar Cravings

When you’re overtired, it’s quite common to find yourself reaching for the junk food. Your body is trying to find sources of energy to keep you awake, and combat the effects of the stress hormone, cortisol.

Can you cut out sugar? Jessica tried to, see how she got on here

However, consuming sugar when tired is counter-productive as the surge of serotonin will lead to an inevitable sugar crash. What you really need is a healthier boost of energy, there’s some ideas here.

Weakened Immunity

When your body is overtired, your immune system is naturally affected, leading to that frustrating “run down” feeling. If you don’t get enough sleep, your body can’t produce enough protective cytokines and germ-fighting antibodies.

This means that you’re more susceptible to catching common colds, flu and suffering from other ailments that seem to be drawn to the overtired. Try boosting your germ defenses with these helpful foods.

Mole hills become mountains

Sleep deprivation can make life’s daily obstacles seem like monumental mountains. Like brushing those tangles out of your wild post-ride mane, or hitting every red light on your commute. Everything just feels more difficult than normal.

With a foggy mind you might not be able to handle these issues particularly well. You may end up making rash decisions, like throwing out that jersey you thought you hated (and later regretting it).  Sleep deprivation can also result in sudden onset crying, often for little or no reason at all.

Weight Gain

It’s true. While you think being awake and more active is a good thing, sleep deprivation can actually cause weight gain.

Everything you need to know about losing weight through cycling

Weight gain and poor sleep share a number of relationships. The increase in cortisol, the sudden craving for sugar and the sluggish de-motivated feeling all contribute to those additional pounds.

What foods can help you sleep?

Sometimes you need a little help to slip away to the land of nod. There’s a number of foods and drinks that can assist in settling your mind and body, and get you ready for a good night’s sleep. Here’s a few of our favourites…

Camomile and Valerian Tea

Both of these herbs have been used since ancient days to treat insomnia. There haven’t been an awful lot of studies on the effect they have on humans, or the rational behind their use, but many people who consume them swear by their effectiveness.

Both natural remedies come available in tea bags, my personal favourite being Clipper’s Sleep Easy, which combines both herbs with orange and cinnamon.

Camomile is very mild, but it’s usually suggested you don’t use Valerian if you’re taking any other form of medicinal sleeping aid.


Often refereed to as a cyclist’s super-food, bananas are jam packed with potassium and magnesium – both of which help your muscles to relax.

The little yellow parcels also contain tryptophan and calcium which converts to serotonin and melatonin, which help promote calming reactions in the brain.


All dairy products: milk, cheese and yoghurt contain tryptophan and calcium. It turns out the calcium doesn’t just build strong bones, it also relieves stress and stabilizes muscle fibres – even those in the brain.

We reckon the perfect option would be a good hot chocolate – it turns out our mums were right all along, but milky oatmeal or yoghurt are other popular suggestions. Careful of the cheese though, you don’t want to have any cycling nightmares!

Nuts and Seeds

Once again, most nuts and seeds are high in tryptophan – with pumpkin seeds topping the charts at 576mg per 100g (that’s 206% of of recommended allowance).

All nuts and seeds contain a healthy dose of protein, which can keep you fuller for longer, as well as aiding muscle repair, so they’re a good option before bed.

However, studies have shown that carbohydrates help deliver tryptophan into the blood stream, so you’re best off sprinkling your nuts into a little milky porridge or spreading nut butter onto wholemeal bread before you hit the hay.

Tart Cherry Juice or Tart Cherries

Another cycling super-food are cherries. In addition to a whole host of body and mind benefits, cherries are considered an ideal sleep aid. A study into adults with insomnia found that those who drank 8 ounces of tart cherry juice twice a day slept for 90 minutes longer than those in a placebo group.

Why not try this delicious cherry chocolate recovery drink?

It’s believed the effect comes from melatonin in the fruit, which helps to regular sleep, and can also fight inflammation.


Fish should be on the superfood list, if it isn’t already. Jam packed with inflammation fighting Omega 3’s, it also contains vitamin B6 – which is needed to make melatonin. Mealtonin is a sleep-inducing hormone, so a good hormone to be encouraging.

Salmon, halibut and tuna are highest in vitamin B6. You can also find it in as well as cheeses and chickpeas, and it’s believed to contribute to mental well-being as well as sound sleep (though the two are undeniably linked).

Dark Chocolate

By dark, we mean over 70% cocoa – any more milky and you’ll suffer the effects of tyrosine, which is converted into the stimulant dopamine.

Dark chocolate has been proven to improve cyclist’s performance when tested, and it’s also linked to improving sleep – win win! Not just any chocolate will do – stick with the luxurious dark chocolate and you’ll get a lovely, sleep inducing dose of serotonin – which relaxes you.


All poultry meats- chicken, turkey and ham – contain tryptophan. There’s a funny myth that turkey contains the most, probably because so many people fall asleep after Christmas dinner.

Technically, goose and duck have the highest content, but we reckon they’re a bit fatty, meaning they’ll sit in your stomach, making you feel uncomfortable before bed. Next up is chicken, which wrapped up with some salad, or thinly sliced on wholemeal bread or crackers would go down a treat.

Top Tips for your pre-sleep routine

Spending countless hours in front of your laptop, playing on your phone and watching a gory film before bed are all modern-day vices. The mind becomes over-stimulated by graphic images, noises and sensory disruption, which can lead to disruptive sleep.

If you’re having trouble switching off and tuning out, then implementing a pre-sleep regime may help get your mind and body into rest mode. Here’s some top tips to help get you started…

  • CAFFEINE: As much as we love a cuppa after our evening meal, having a caffeinated drink too close to bedtime can stimulate our brains too much to switch off. Try and quit the hit in the early afternoon to allow enough time for your mind to settle.
  • COMFORT: Cosy up with your favourite blanket (or cat!) and sip away at a hot chocolate or malt drink to relax the body before sleep. Having a hot shower before bed also helps make you feel tired for bed as it raises your core temperature quickly, for it to drop again when you come out. Your body has to work to cool down and that can leave you feeling pretty dozy.
  • SWITCH OFF: That’s right! Turn off the TV, turn the phone upside down and get away from the Facebook pings and Messenger rings, they’ll still be there in the morning. You don’t want to overload and stimulate your brain when you’re trying to relax, it doesn’t work.

The perfect pre-sleep routine will vary from one person to another, but it can play an important role in getting your brain in the right frame of mind for a good sleep. It may take some trial and error to find something that works for you, it may even involve meditation, breathing exercises and whale music.

For your body and mind to function at its best, you need to find a good balance between healthy diet, exercise and sleep. Sadly, there is no perfect recipe for everyone, but if you remember to take on board the key ingredients for a balance lifestyle, you’ll be smashing those QoM’s in no time.

You may also enjoy:

Recovery: are you doing it right?

Menstrual Cycling: Riding every day of the month

How to fend off Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)


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