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Long Distance Competition/Ultracycling, Randonneuring and Endurance Cycling Do you enjoy centuries, double centuries, brevets, randonnees, and 24-hour time trials? Share ride reports, and exchange training, equipment, and nutrition information specific to long distance cycling. This isn't for tours, this is for endurance events cycling

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Old 01-30-08, 07:13 PM   #1
Niles H.
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Conquering Sleep?

Apparently some long distance cyclists have found alternative ways of dealing with sleep.

Has anyone come up with good solutions? -- good ways of getting around standard sleep patterns and 'requirements'?

*******
Riding through the night, or getting by with cat-napping....

Are there ways of staying fresh, even while getting less sleep? -- for a night or two, or perhaps even for extended periods?
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Old 01-30-08, 07:19 PM   #2
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It's very hard to fall asleep while cycling. If you actually start falling asleep you'll find if you stop to rest you'll get extremely good sleep but it probably won't last very long in a strange/uncomfortable environment.
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Old 01-30-08, 07:26 PM   #3
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I posted this in touring too ... with my current computer I have trouble doing more than one thing at a time, so looking up the info to back all this up is difficult. I may do that one the weekend. Or you could look up ceridean cycle (or ceridean clock or system ... I believe that's how you spell ceridean)

However, after some research, scientist have discovered that our REM sleep patterns are in a 1.5 hour cycle. If we can complete one entire cycle, we can wake up refreshed. But if we wake in the middle of a cycle, we run the risk of waking up with that groggy, out-of-it feeling. So, it is recommended that we aim to sleep 1.5 hours, or 3 hours, or 4.5 hours, or 6 hours, etc.

Now, having said that, unless you're the type of person who is asleep the second your head hits the pillow it is a good idea to allow a slightly longer time of lying down than that. For example, if you are on a Randonnee and you want to sleep 1.5 hours, allow yourself 2 hours. This gives you 10 or 15 minutes, or so to wind down and actually fall asleep, and another 10 or 15 minutes to lie there in a semi-awake state, convincing yourself to get out of bed and keep riding.

If you don't have time for a full 1.5 hours, the next recommendation is that you go with something shorter than 30 minutes ... say, anywhere from 10-30 minutes. If you do that, you will not have fallen completely into the REM cycle, and you can still wake up refreshed.

So on a 1200K, I will ride 24+ hours, then sleep for 1.5 hours, then after about 12 more hours, I might catch a 20 minute nap, then another 12 hours or so later, I might go for 1.5 or 3 hours of sleep. Then about another 12 hours later, I might catch a 10 minute nap ... another 12 hours I might go for a 30 minute nap, and then another 10 minute nap about 6 hours later, and then I'll ride to the finish, where, after about 2 hours of celebrating, I'll fall asleep in my hamburgers.
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Old 01-31-08, 06:23 AM   #4
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I concur with what Machka stated about structuring your sleep around an REM cycle (90 minute increments), and also have found that 5 or 15 minute catnaps on the side of the road can do wonders for refreshing tired eyes. I've also found the following tricks can be useful for waking up on a bike (though, of course, these tricks become less effective as you become more tired)

- eat something light and sugar-y (ie. energy gel)

- if riding with others, maintain conversation.

- if riding alone do a recursive, but not completely repetitive mental exercise
* sing 99 bottles of beer in a foreign language,
* play I Spy with yourself and keep on looking for items in the landscape in sequential alphabetical order)
* if you know alternate numbering sequences, every 10 seconds, try to express the mileage to the next control in hexadecimal or binary.

- sprint, do intervals or add additional bits of stress to your body

I've used all of these in some combination to get myself to the next control and a hot cup of coffee or to the sunrise, where the natural illumination will help me stay awake. I can say though, for certain levels of fatigue it is certainly very possible for one to fall asleep while pedaling a bike. I've done it and I've seen others fall victim to it.

It might be that you'll never fall completely asleep on a bike, but you will nod off enough that you will veer in one direction or another. In some of these circumstances, your body will hit you with a titch of adrenaline when you're on the verge of losing your balance on the bike and, before you've completely lost control. However, if you're unlucky that point of waking might come right after you've swerved into the oncoming traffic lane and are about to be hit by a car; or right before you've veered into the path of another cyclist in your pace line or right before you hit a pothole that will fling you from your bike.

In all cases, if you do find yourself micronapping, the best solution is sleep. It's better to arrive a little late than to arrive in an ambulance.
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Old 01-31-08, 06:30 AM   #5
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oh, and I thnk Machka means circadian cycles
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Old 01-31-08, 07:41 AM   #6
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I'm not used to staying up all night (actually I often think that not much is worth sacrificing a good nights sleep unless really needed) so I found that dealing with sleep deprivation was the hardest thing on my long distance events. Before trying it, I thought it would be really difficult to feel sleepy while on the bike, because you're outside, in fresh air, etc... but the reality is that fighting to keep your eyes open while riding your bike can be a real pain. Personnally, I totally hate that feeling, and the moment it happened on PBP was just the worst moment for me of the entire ride (much worse than riding in the rain for example). Luckily it only happened once, thanks to Machka's advice. Sleeping by 90 minutes multiples really does work. I was amazed at how refreshed I felt after sleeping just 3 hours.
I dont have much to add. Some people also say it helps to take deep breaths to get more oxygen in your body. The thing you have to remember is that feeling sleepy usually doesn't last. You have to fight for half an hour or sometimes more, but after that you feel OK again.
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Old 01-31-08, 12:07 PM   #7
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Looks like the Davis 600k attempts to prepare riders for sleep deprivation, as they start their 600k brevet at 8PM.

This will be a tough 1st 600k for me, if I decide to ride.
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Old 01-31-08, 02:03 PM   #8
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All of the above advice is spot on. Sometimes I sleep because I am sleepy, and sometimes I sleep because I am tired. Sleep because I am sleepy will be 15-20 min, whereas sleep because I am tired will ideally be in a multiple of 90 min.

During PBP my sleep went:

Monday: woke up at 9:00 am
Monday: started the ride at 9:00 pm
Tuesday: napped for 15-20 min around 8:00 am at Villaines
Tuesday: slept for 3.5 hours (three hours plus 30 min to get to sleep) at 10:00 pm at Loudeac
Wednesday: napped for 30 min at Carhaix (outbound) around 9:00 am
Wednesday: slept for 3.5 hours at 11:00 pm at Loudeac
Thursday: tried to take a micro-nap on the side of the road, sitting still on my bike, but fell asleep until it was too late to keep from falling over (boom!)
Thursday: tossed and turned for 2-3 hours at 11:00 pm at Mortagne before getting up and back on the bike because I was freezing

My sleep plan worked out, except for that last night in Mortagne. I didn't have the right equipment. Instead of a bivy sack, or even a space blanket, I tried to use a liner for my sleeping bag (which was in my drop bag in Loudeac). Both long sleeps in Loudeac were planned. So was the one in Mortagne, and it would have worked out correctly if I had the right thing. By the time I got to Mortagne I was cold, wet, sleepy AND tired.

For the next PBP, and oh yes I will be there, I want to get more sleep at the three planned sleep stops. I really don't care what my finishing time is (I say this now).

FYI, riding straight through Monday night was the first for me. I had no idea how I was going to react.
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Old 02-03-08, 03:47 PM   #9
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I agree with much of what is written here -
and I'll add that for me, I find it helpful to wait to sleep until I can nap until it's light out. When you wake up in the light it's like tricking yourself that you've slept longer - and you feel more awake when the sun is out.
:-)
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Old 02-05-08, 11:27 AM   #10
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Why would you want to conquer sleep? I find long, multi-day rides like randonees much more enjoyable -- and no slower -- if I get a full night's sleep. Besides, it's harder to enjoy the scenery at night.
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Old 02-05-08, 12:10 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Godwin View Post
It's very hard to fall asleep while cycling...
This is incredibly dangerous advice. I guarantee that if you've only gotten five or six hours of sleep across four days, you'll have an easy time of it falling asleep on your bicycle.

On PBP, I watched a guy who was a hundred yards in front of me ride straight into a ditch because he was asleep. Luckily, nothing injured but pride. The next night, as I was riding down a very long, gently curving hill, I remember thinking as I passed someone "Need to stay focused so I don't fall asleep on this hill." Next thing I knew, the guy who I had passed yelled "Tu te dorme" and woke me up. I had crossed the centerline and was aiming at the wall of a cliff at 35 mph. The next day, I was so sleepy toward the bottom of a hill that I decided I'd have to stop at the bottom and take a nap. The cyclist on the other end of the park bench was all banged up -- he had fallen asleep and crashed.

If you wake up before you crash, you'll wake with a start and get a jolt of adrenaline. But if you don't wake up before you crash, you might not wake up after.
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Old 02-05-08, 01:02 PM   #12
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This is incredibly dangerous advice. I guarantee that if you've only gotten five or six hours of sleep across four days, you'll have an easy time of it falling asleep on your bicycle.

On PBP, I watched a guy who was a hundred yards in front of me ride straight into a ditch because he was asleep. Luckily, nothing injured but pride. The next night, as I was riding down a very long, gently curving hill, I remember thinking as I passed someone "Need to stay focused so I don't fall asleep on this hill." Next thing I knew, the guy who I had passed yelled "Tu te dorme" and woke me up. I had crossed the centerline and was aiming at the wall of a cliff at 35 mph. The next day, I was so sleepy toward the bottom of a hill that I decided I'd have to stop at the bottom and take a nap. The cyclist on the other end of the park bench was all banged up -- he had fallen asleep and crashed.

If you wake up before you crash, you'll wake with a start and get a jolt of adrenaline. But if you don't wake up before you crash, you might not wake up after.
What I was trying to say was that it is a lot harder to fall asleep while cycling and you can usually push yourself until you are very tired, then you can get a very good sleep; you should know your body well enough to know that you are past that stage and are risking collapse. I personally can tell I'm past that stage when my mind starts not functioning very well and I start thinking how comfortable the ditches look, I usually don't get to that stage but if I do I stop as soon as I possibly can. If you are in the habit of pedaling or moving into an areo position while descending this can help keep you on your feet (wheels?) while being over tired.
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Old 02-05-08, 05:06 PM   #13
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I have fallen asleep on my bicycle ... it happens so fast. There you are thinking you're OK, and thinking about the hum of the bicycle in the dark, and thinking about how the road looks whizzing past, and thinking how nice it would feel to close your eyes for just a second ... not much longer than a blink .... not enough to be dangerous or anything, because after all, you're feeling OK ......

And next thing you know ....

The problem is that shot of adrenaline that comes when you jolt awake moments before plunging into the ditch, or falling off your bicycle doesn't last long either. For the next 5 minutes, you're thinking, "THAT was a close call." "WOW do I ever feel awake now!" And then all of a sudden you're heading for that ditch again.

I don't usually experience this in the first 24 hours on the bicycle ... it's as the ride continues after that where I have trouble.
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Old 02-05-08, 05:51 PM   #14
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I have fallen asleep on my bicycle ... it happens so fast. There you are thinking you're OK, and thinking about the hum of the bicycle in the dark, and thinking about how the road looks whizzing past, and thinking how nice it would feel to close your eyes for just a second ... not much longer than a blink .... not enough to be dangerous or anything, because after all, you're feeling OK ......

And next thing you know ....
One of my scariest memories from PBP was on the return from Brest and after leaving Carhaix en route to Loudeac. I remember getting sleepy, and being on a quiet, long, dark street with a few riders ahead of me and a few riders behind me.

Then, suddenly, I was approaching a rotary and I had to figure out which way I was turning. And I didn't remember how I got to the rotary because I didn't see it before. I was cycling for what must have been a few seconds completely asleep.

Yeah, that bit of adrenaline didn't last for long either. But it was long enough to get to a village with a cafe and some espresso. Then, on leaving the village, I got lost with another rider after missing a turn in the dark, rainy night. Once we realized that we were off course, we suddenly had no problem with staying awake. Fear had taken care of that for us.
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Old 02-05-08, 09:17 PM   #15
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Worth noting that the 90 minutes thing is not cast in stone; it varies by individual. Someone -- Mike Secrest, I think -- forced himself into 90 minute cycles and suffered terribly. He then went to a sleep specialist and discovered his personal REM cycle lasted almost two hours. Just adding an extra half hour per sleep session nearly worked a miracle for him.

Also, Circadian rhythm deals with the 24 hour hour light/dark cycle, whereas REM sleep is something largely unrelated. /nitpick
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Old 02-05-08, 11:28 PM   #16
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Worth noting that the 90 minutes thing is not cast in stone; it varies by individual. Someone -- Mike Secrest, I think -- forced himself into 90 minute cycles and suffered terribly. He then went to a sleep specialist and discovered his personal REM cycle lasted almost two hours. Just adding an extra half hour per sleep session nearly worked a miracle for him.

Also, Circadian rhythm deals with the 24 hour hour light/dark cycle, whereas REM sleep is something largely unrelated. /nitpick
I can see that there might be a difference in REM cycles. From what I've read, people under 18 (or some age around there) generally operate on a 45 minute REM cycle, but adults operate on this 90 minute REM cycle. So my question was ... when you hit 18 and become "legal" do you suddenly jump from 45 to 90, or what? Is it a gradual transition? And do some people never make the transition?

See, I suspect I'm still on a 45 minute REM cycle. The whole 90 minute thing still works great for me, as it would if I were on a 45 minute cycle, but I can also take 45 minute naps (and often wake up on my own after 45 minutes) and feel great too ... but don't let me sleep to the 60 minute point. 1 hour of sleep, and I cannot function.
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Old 02-06-08, 11:06 AM   #17
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Are there ways of staying fresh, even while getting less sleep? -- for a night or two, or perhaps even for extended periods?
Generally no. It's true that the best method of extending wake fullness is to simply try staying awake.

Remaining active is key. Any situations that require keeping still will accentuate sensations of fatigue and sleepiness.

While there are plenty of scientific laboratory results to support the use of optimal short-term napping/sleeping strategies during multi-day efforts of wake fullness, in practice situational response [real life results] to predesignated sleeping patterns doesn't bear out any increased success.

Practice and experience are the greatest contributing factors to learning to stay on the bike. Individual will power trumps all.
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Old 02-07-08, 07:36 PM   #18
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Or you could look up ceridean cycle (or ceridean clock or system ... I believe that's how you spell ceridean)
circadian rhythm
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Old 02-07-08, 07:47 PM   #19
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+1 above comments about sleep cycles

REM cycles vary but they tend to vary by age, rather than between individuals eg. babies - ~40 minute cycle; adults minutes as stated above. I'm not sure when the changeover is. I think it is through adolescence rather than in very early life. I guess from the post above about the 2-hr cycle, that they can vary by individual, but this is relatively uncommon.

If you really want to you could find a local sleep study lab and approach them, either for a paid service, or as a "collaborative research project". Otherwise an alarm clock is cheaper, but you won't work out what a REM cycle is for you.

If you can find an EEG machine, or fashion a crude one out of some electrodes, a diff amp circuit and a plotter or an oscilloscope attached to a VCR, you could work it out yourself. There are some circuit diagrams for crude ECG (EKG) and EEG machines out there, I saw one in a collection of curcuit diagrams once (can't remember where)

That zoned-out vague feeling is when you wake up not having completed a REM cycle. That still-tired but awake and refreshed feeling is when the REM cycle is complete.

SHORT naps are better than long sub-REM cycle naps; 5 min or so, 15 maximum.

You can get your total allotment in multiples-of-a-REM-cycle fragments. You keep functioning but it isn't as good as a solid 7-8 hrs (for me; 9-10 for my wife!) block.
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Old 02-07-08, 07:50 PM   #20
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I find going to sleep after about 4.45-5am is counterproductive, I prefer to stay awake then have an afternoon nap. Not sure why this is. Maybe melatonin levels.
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Old 02-09-08, 02:12 PM   #21
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Determining your own rythm is feasible: just note the time when you happen to wake up on a piece of paper located near a pencil and your alarm clock during the night. After noting these things a couple of nights, you will find a pattern. Last time I checked, mine was about 1:45.

I share all the advices about how dangerous, and unpredictable, it can be to fall asleep while riding. As was said before, we tend to fall asleep while riding downhill, not uphill: this is a combination of doing nothing (so the heart slows down) and looking at the central line on the road (which can become hypnotic). Machka said once that you must absolutely keep your sugar level up. I agree this is essential and not easy to monitor because night is made for sleep so your body won't help.

Ultimately, the easiest night ride I experienced also happened to be the fastest 400K I ever did. Apparently, the heavy exercise and stress level caused by speed removed sleep desire. Of course, as in all ACP-organised brevets, food was available at all checkpoints, which were never within more that 100 km from each other. This helped keeping sugar level up

Last, I am an adept of the 10' nap every time I feel like sleeping, immediately. When the desire of sleep hits me, it does not leave me so I better take care of it right away

Just my 2c
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