How to Sleep Like a Professional Cyclist

How to Sleep Like a Professional Cyclist
By Dr. Andy Rosser, Downtown Olympia

Exhausted CyclistThere was a time in my life when I could stay up in the evening long enough to get all the things done that I wanted. It was one of my “tricks” of productivity. I could then wake up the next morning and go about my day, catching up as needed, or not. Alas, that ability is gone, and it’s been replaced with a visit from the sandman every night to remind me. I’m not the only one. I see the effects of poor sleep in my practice every day. The health effects of poor sleep on us all is astounding, and the topic comes up very often when I am talking to patients who are having a hard time healing from injuries.

I’ve recently learned about the work of Nick Littlehales ( who is a professional sleep coach from the U.K. He works with many professional sports team, including Great Britain’s Team Sky. His job is to help the athletes organize an optimal sleep/wake routine to optimize rest & recovery despite the rigors of competition, training, and travel.

Although some of his advice is more suited to the professional athletes, the majority of his advice is useful to us all! The rest of this article offers some of his top recommendations for getting better sleep:

How Much Sleep Do We Need? Okay, trick question… In modern times, we’ve created one nocturnal sleep period, but historically, we’ve had up to three in a 24 hour period! (One was in the afternoon, plus two separate periods at night.) Over time, cultural shifts have pushed all of our sleep into one session. Despite this, Littlehale’s best estimate of our sleep requirement is about 7.5 hours of sleep. It take 90 minutes for your body to go through all the necessary stages of sleep, and he recommends getting at least 5 complete cycles (5 x 90 min.) If you want more, go to bed 90 minutes earlier. If you have to get less sleep, skip a 90 minute cycle so you can keep on schedule for waking up.

When Should I Go To Bed? That depends on when you need to get up. Littlehales recommends that wake up time should be between 6:00-8:00 a.m. Once you pick your time, work back in 90 minute blocks of time. So, for a 6:30 a.m. wake up time, 5 cycles of sleep will give you a 11 p.m. bedtime. If you need more sleep on a particular day, go to bed at 9:30 p.m. Once you find your optimal bedtime, stick to it and orient your daily routine to making sure you get in bed on time.

When Should I Take A Nap? Ideally, somewhere between 1:00 & 4:00 p.m. sit or lie down and let yourself unwind by being quiet and letting your mind drift. When you feel like you are falling to sleep, set an alarm for 20 minutes. Even if you don’t actually get to sleep, the break in the day will be refreshing.

Additional Tips. Eat your final meal of the day about 3-4 hours before your bedtime and any nighttime snacks should be eaten at least 90 minutes before bedtime. Then, during the last 90 minutes before going to sleep focus on unwinding so that by your set bedtime you are ready to fall asleep. Littlehales suggests light stretching, a warm bath, or other pampering and recommends avoiding technology, email, social media, and other similar activities since they can activate us and make it harder to move towards sleep. He goes as far as to say that phones should be turned off and removed from the bedroom and that they are not to be used as alarm clocks.

Read more about Dr. Rosser’s adventures as an amateur cyclist . He is the team chiropractor for the CBC/Olympia Orthopaedic Associates Racing Team, and assists other athletes in the community. For more information, he can be contacted at

photo credit: Matt Polaine

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