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  1. #1
    Gears? CliftonGK1's Avatar
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    Conquering sleep deprivation

    I have grand visions of myself one day being part of the monster-miler crowd. Those kilometer kings and queens churning out 15,000km seasons and completing multiple SR series in a single year.

    Then there's the reality I'm faced with: I attempted a long ride on very little sleep this weekend, and I found myself falling asleep on my bike. Here's how I set up my little experiment -

    On the basis of ride reports, it seems that many riders sleep ~2 - 3 hours a night (tops) while doing a very long event (1000 - 1200k). A common number I hear tossed around is that riders will sleep ~1.5 - 2hrs on a 600k. So, armed with that knowledge, and some stalwart determination, I put myself forth to my task; ride the Tour de Cure century loop twice, starting on the night before and meeting the organized group for the 7am start with already having a solo overnight loop completed.
    I got my usual 6 hours of sleep on Thursday night, worked a full shift on Friday (I'm a desk jockey, so it's not like I was tired from working a strenuous labour job), came home and dealt with some chores, had dinner and managed to get... a 2 hour nap before starting out. Perfect! I was thinking. Right? Just about the amount I hear people talking about.

    So I ate some breakfast, suited up and hopped on my bike for round 1. Aside from the rain all night long, and 1 very agitated dog who wouldn't shut up while I read my cue sheet at a stop sign, it was a great ride. I finished in just short of 7 hours, got back to my apartment and threw some of my wet gear in the dryer, had my dog out for her business, and settled in for a 30 minute nap.
    I geared back up, had another cuppa coffee, munched some food and went to meet the gang for round 2. I felt good. My legs were fine, and although I was a little bit tired I didn't feel horrible. Setting off on lap #2, I was maintaining a 14.5mph average and between eating and drinking I didn't have any cramping issues.
    The problems set in after mile 40 on lap 2... Cars seemed louder. Other riders calling out their passing position would startle me, even though I had seen them in my mirror. I caught myself sagging my head a few times, and another rider around mile 48/49 gave me a tap on the arm as I was heading towards the gravel shoulder of the road. Even though I had more coffee, a soda and a 5hr Energy in me at that point, I could not stay awake.
    For safety's sake, I packed it in at the 52 mile rest station and got a ride home; I was genuinely afraid to keep riding anymore, even if I had stayed it out for another nap at that stop.

    So, after my rambling, I have some questions for the burly big milers:
    How in the heck do you overcome your sleep deprivation? Is it something you can literally train up to, similar to building up to longer and longer miles?
    Was I simply too ambitious with this first attempt, and maybe should have capped it at just a 200k instead of going for a full double?
    Sleep dep hallucinations: Annoyance to be overcome, or signs to take a break?

    Bonus question: This was just me doing a double loop on an organized charity ride. If I had a control cutoff and time in the bank, what is your preferred pattern - scatter a couple 20 - 30 minute naps across the remainder of the ride, or bag it all in a single 1 - 1.5 hour nap, then continue on?
    "I feel like my world was classier before I found cyclocross."
    - Mandi M.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Homeyba's Avatar
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    If you are falling asleep on the bike that is a problem! I think the people you are hearing their sleep estimates from are underestimating or they are not very fast riders or they are very fast riders trying for a fast time. If you are going so slow on a brevet that you are endangering yourself by falling asleep on the bike it's time for some re-evaluation. The last 600k I did I slept for over 6hrs, I have done them straight through as well. One night without sleep isn't as big of a deal as three nights on a 1200k. I try and get a minimum of 4hrs of sleep at night on a 1200k and usually get much more. I have gotten less but not night after night. I know some riders who can do a summer 1200k and not even ride at night (or very little). Whatever you do (and you did the right thing by stopping), don't continue to ride the bike if you are falling asleep. That is a recipe for a crash or worse. If I get sleepy on the bike it's time to stop and take a cat nap, 15-20 minutes is usually enough to charge the batteries so you can keep going. Next time you are in that situation give that a try. You don't even really have to sleep, just closing your eyes for 15-20 minutes can make a huge difference.
    It doesn't get harder, you just go slower.

  3. #3
    Randomhead
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    i just finished my second 600k, so I don't have that much experience. This year, I slept 2 hours due to schedule difficulties if I had slept for 3 like I wanted. But that really seemed to make things a lot better. Last year, I did not sleep and was having trouble with dozing on the bike. My feet were hurting and so was my crotch. This year, both of those things seemed the same when I went to bed, but were much better when I got up. The saddle sores issue might have been helped last year if I had taken a shower, but letting things settle down also seemed to help.

    I've been sick a lot this year so my training has suffered badly. I've been really slow. So it didn't really surprise me that I used most of the 27 hours that are allotted to ride the 400k. I didn't have any problems with sleepiness on that ride, although I did take some 2 minute naps at the controles.

    There seems to be some truth to the idea that you should sleep in multiples of 90 minutes. I find that 3 hours is perfect, but 90 minutes often is enough. My randonneuring involves a lot of driving, sometimes in lieu of sleeping. I find that after a 90 minute nap I'm refreshed and don't even get close to dozing.
    Last edited by unterhausen; 05-24-10 at 09:28 PM.

  4. #4
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    OK, here's the thing. According to some research adult humans have a REM cycles of about 90 minutes in length. The research indicates that if you take very short naps of no more than 20 minutes, you can get up and feel pretty good for a few hours because you haven't fallen into a deep sleep. But if you sleep 30 minutes or 60 minutes and wake up, you're waking up out of the middle of the REM cycle and you may struggle.

    After reading this research, and then experimenting with it myself, I discovered what works for me. I can take catnaps of about 10 minutes and wake up feeling pretty good. If I'm going to sleep longer, I will do so for multiples of 90 minutes. If I'm going to sleep for 90 minutes, I'll give myself 2 hours ... 15 minutes to relax and fall asleep, 90 minutes to go through the REM cycle, and 15 minutes to ease myself out of bed (or up off the ground). And if I've actually got time for 3 hours of sleep, I'll allot 3.5 hours to the experience ... again so I've got 15 minutes on either side to get to sleep and get up.

    Look up REM cycles and Circadian Rhythms ... like this article for example ...
    http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/b...ding_sleep.htm

  5. #5
    Randomhead
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    i've seen someone take a 10 minute nap and be like a new man, it was amazing

  6. #6
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    I've had plenty of experience with sleep deprivation -- five 600's, of which four of them had two hours sleep apiece and one (last year) had four hours. I also rode BMB with six hours of sleep, and 720 miles of PBP with about eight hours. All of those times are based on the recorded stoppage time on my GPS, so they are fairly accurate. None of this is because I'm striving for rapid completion times on events -- I'm just not fast enough to get anymore sleep and still finish with a moderate amount of buffer time to handle mechanicals, bonus miles, etc.

    Some tricks:
    Chew some peppermint gum
    Eat something -- if you have low blood sugar, it's hard for your brain to stay awake
    Stand up and sprint
    Sing "99-bottles of beer on the wall" -- the backwards-counting seems to stimulate a different part of your brain and help you stay awake
    A 15-minute nap has enormous restorative power.
    A longer-term trick is to cut out caffeine for a month before the long rides. Then when you drink coffee or eat a caffeine pill, it's really effective.

    Don't ride if you just can't stay awake. If taking a nap means you'll DNF, then at least you live to ride another day. A kind Frenchman probably saved my life on PBP by yelling "Tu te dorme" as I fell asleep on a downhill heading toward a cliff face. I had just thought to myself "Need to be careful not to fall asleep on the downhill" and then I did it anyway.

    Nick

  7. #7
    Senior Member Homeyba's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thebulls View Post
    ... A kind Frenchman probably saved my life on PBP by yelling "Tu te dorme" as I fell asleep on a downhill heading toward a cliff face. I had just thought to myself "Need to be careful not to fall asleep on the downhill" and then I did it anyway...
    This is the very reason why sleep is so important. You don't want to become a road pizza. If you are doing longer brevets you can't be afraid to sleep in a ditch in the middle of nowhere if you have too. At PBP you might want to avoid the ditches along the roadside, at least on the first night or your liable to get pee'd on.

    When you do sleep, Machka and unterhausenmade a very important point about sleeping through at least one REM cycle. If you get woken up in the middle of a REM cycle you'll feel crappy and like you hadn't slept at all.
    It doesn't get harder, you just go slower.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Marcello's Avatar
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    I completed several 600k brevets, two 1000k and one 1200k. Here are some observations from my experience, in no particular order.

    What works on a typical morning-start 600k - where you may be mostly sleepless for one night - may not work on a 1000/1200k - where you could be mostly sleepless for three consecutive nights. Big difference. I can finish the second day of a 600k with 90 minutes of sleep (one time I did it with three 30 minute naps total), but on a longer ride I can't function on less than 3 hours sleep a night, 4.5 hours is better. More than that, I don't think it makes a difference, but I have never been able to test that theory.

    Get faster. Especially at getting in and out of the controls. The sooner you can get to the nighttime control, the longer you can rest. Faster riders often choose to sleep less and finish their ride in a shorter time, but that does not have to be what you do.

    Eat during your ride. If you run behind on your calorie intake, it is a lot harder to keep from getting sleepy.

    When I am sleepy, in addition to my "normal" rando food, I like having some beef jerky to chew. Some other riders use chewing gum.

    Don't start a ride with a sleep deficit, and get as much sleep as you can the 2-3 nights before a ride.

    If you drink caffeine-containing beverages, or take caffeine in other form, learn how your body reacts to it. If I am getting sleepy and I know that I am still 3 hours ride from the night time control, I may need some caffeine to keep going.

    Very short naps (5 minutes) are surprisingly effective, for me it may keep me going for one hour, which may be enough to get me to the next control.

    A helmet turned around 180 degrees (front side towards the back) makes a surprisingly comfortable pillow (at least for me).

    Just do it. While advice from people who have done a multi-day brevet or ten can be useful, you will have to learn what works and what does not work for you, by trial end error. Your back to back century test was actually a very good one, in my opinion, but it may not tell you how you will feel after a 360 km first day on a 600k brevet.

    If at all possible, ride with others at night. It is safer, and talking with other riders also helps you keep you alert.

  9. #9
    Gears? CliftonGK1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Homeyba View Post
    This is the very reason why sleep is so important. You don't want to become a road pizza. If you are doing longer brevets you can't be afraid to sleep in a ditch in the middle of nowhere if you have too. At PBP you might want to avoid the ditches along the roadside, at least on the first night or your liable to get pee'd on.

    When you do sleep, Machka and unterhausenmade a very important point about sleeping through at least one REM cycle. If you get woken up in the middle of a REM cycle you'll feel crappy and like you hadn't slept at all.
    I have no qualms about sleeping in the middle of a field, on a bus bench, in a doorway, or a roadside ditch; so I'm good on that front.

    When I was reading the numbers that Machka posted, the first thought I had was "Gee, maybe I did more to mess myself up than any good" with that 30 minute nap between laps. The 2 hours I got before the first loop was probably appropriate; 30 minutes to get into deep sleep, and ~90min for a REM cycle before waking up. But the quick nap probably gave me just enough time to get into a deep sleep, and then shook me from it, thowing off my pattern and basically giving my internal clock a kick in the marbles.

    Well, live and learn. Both of equal importance. I never imagined there was this much to learn when getting into LD riding. Unterhausen pretty much summed it up in my previous DNF thread, when I said it was a learning experience and I wouldn't repeat the same mistakes.
    Quote Originally Posted by unterhausen
    Words to live by. I swear I think up new stupidity every ride. I'm learning from my mistakes though.
    I'm glad I found this forum, because even with my local club I think I'd be lost without some of the advice I've picked up here.
    "I feel like my world was classier before I found cyclocross."
    - Mandi M.

  10. #10
    One legged rider
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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka View Post
    OK, here's the thing. According to some research adult humans have a REM cycles of about 90 minutes in length. The research indicates that if you take very short naps of no more than 20 minutes, you can get up and feel pretty good for a few hours because you haven't fallen into a deep sleep. But if you sleep 30 minutes or 60 minutes and wake up, you're waking up out of the middle of the REM cycle and you may struggle.
    This is a lot like what I found when I was in the army. On missions, as a general rule, you try to sleep in like, 1 1/2 or 2 hour blocks if you have to take short sleeping breaks, so you get some dreaming, which is the "real sleep" in. Power naps or catnaps only work for so long. You can't do power naps forever...you will crash eventually, but you can go indefinitely on cycles of 2 hour sleep blocks without ever really needing to get an entire nights sleep.

  11. #11
    Senior Member lonesomesteve's Avatar
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    I'm not a super experienced Randonneur with only one and a half seasons and two 600s under my reflective belt, but in my experience:

    Definitely agree with the sleeping in 90 minute sleep-cycle intervals thing. You'll wake up feeling much better if you wake after a complete cycle.

    Also agree with the suggestions to chew gum or nibble on something (I like Fritos). Chewing definitely helps keep you awake.

    Everyone has very different needs and abilities when it comes to sleep and sleep deprivation. My wife is grumpy as heck if she doesn't get 8 hrs a night, I get by fine with a lot less. It's just how I'm wired. You really need to experiment with your own limits to know what works for you and what doesn't.

    Getting in and out of controls quickly can buy you lots of sleep time. Riding fast helps too, but I think most Randos have a lot more to gain from being efficient at controls than by being faster on their bikes. Think of it this way: You only have to average 12 mph on a 600k to get 6 - 7 hrs of sleep if you keep other control stops to 5 minutes or so.

    Sleep dep hallucinations: Annoyance to be overcome, or signs to take a break?
    Again, different people have different limits. On the SiR Mountain 600k last summer, I had a vivid halucination of a mountain lion beside the road getting ready to pounce on me as I approached Chinook pass at 2am on the second night (that got some adrenaline pumping!). But even though I was halucinating, I never really came close to dozing off. As long as I kept pedalling, I felt ok. But that's just me. I know other people much smarter than I would have been sleeping in the ditch long before that point.
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  12. #12
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Regarding hallucinations ... I have had some incredible ones on my long rides!!!

    But Rowan has helped me limit those with some very good advice he gave me ..... eat! I tend to stop eating once it gets dark. It's night ... who eats at night? Plus it can be hard to get at my food in the dark if I haven't prepared very well. And the less I eat, the greater the chances I'll have a wild hallucination. So if I'm riding through the night I have to make an effort to keep eating regularly.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Richard Cranium's Avatar
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    I don't think anyone can learn much from exchanging info about sleep. There are just too many differences between each cyclists natural constitution and the conditions leading up to their particular ride.

    There are some generalities worth repeating. They apply no matter or who you are or what you're trying.

    One - the most important aspect of being ready for any seriously difficult cycling event is avoiding stress and getting some good sleep during several of the nights before the night or day of the ride.

    Two - we are all born with "animal instincts" and genetic toughness capable of performing 40 or more hours of activity without significant sleep or rest.

    Except for an event like RAAM - most of us should not consider "sleep" as a necessity that affect the successful outcome of a ride. The truth is, we are all born tough enough to bicycle 40 out of any given 48 hours - and that's enough to finish just about any ride.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Homeyba's Avatar
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    Richard,
    I think you missed the fact that just about everyone who has posted on this thread has done a 1200km brevet or aspires to do a 1200km brevet. The very fastest riders can finish a brevet in the 45-50hr range which is pushing how long a person should stay awake without sleeping, especially if you count the hours awake prior to the ride. Most riders finish in the 75-85hr range and many at the 90hr limit. There is no way a person can or should try to stay awake for that period of time so this conversation is essential for riders wanting to take on the challenge of a 1200km ride. Someone riding while falling asleep on the bike can put themselves in very real danger.

    You make an excelent point that everyone is different but you can still obtain a lot of useful information from a conversation like this to aid you in getting the appropriate sleep during a long ride. It's just like nutrition, everyone is different but "generally" everyone is the same. It makes it easier to figure out your own plan when you hear how other riders are coping with these issues.
    It doesn't get harder, you just go slower.

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