Credit J. Robertson

DISCLAIMER: Voluntary sleep deprivation is at your own risk, it can affect your attitude and have an impact on your social life. It can provoke loss of concentration, increasing the risk of an accident. It can also in serious medical conditions like heart attacks, high blood pressure and in some cases, death.

One of the most frequently asked question during people’s training for an ultra race competition is: ‘how much do people sleep during the race?’ From there, 2 possibilities: you stay on your daily sleeping schedule or you schedule less sleeping time to allow for more riding time.

Do you need to ride more ? If it’s because you are slow, maybe focus on training to ride faster… If you are a fit cyclist, maybe riding more will improve your daily mileage. I’m saying maybe because sleeping less could ruin your physical performance, what would be the point of riding for longer but much slower? In this article, I’m not going to determine some formula to link sleeping time and average speed but rather I’m going to experiment on myself with sleep deprivation.

My first goal is to experience greater sleep deprivation than I ever have before. I’ve always wondered whether I can really sleep only 3 hours per night. I didn’t manage to do it during TCR#3, and during TCR#4 I thad a cycle of 4 and a half hours of sleep for 3 nights and then 1 nights of 7 hours. I didn’t have a particular, precise plan for sleeping though and when the opportunity to sleep longer in hotels at checkpoint arose, I did so. I basically slept as much as I felt I needed to not have a shitty average TCR day.

My second objective was to see whether I can do the legendary “Uberman schedule.” This consists in dividing your normal night’s sleep into naps throughout the day. The standard version is to take a 20 minute nap every 4 hours, but there is some variation possible to accommodate the schedule to your lifestyle (more naps during the night than the day for exemple). The total amount of sleep can drop below 3 hours: that mean a lot of time for riding!

 

Sleep deprivation is a tough thing for the body, sleep is as important as hydration. For a normal person, an average night’s sleep is between 7 and 9 hours and 60% of the population doesn’t sleep enough. Here are the results of my experimentation so far.

First night: 5 am-8 am (3h/24)
I felt hungry, I didn’t notice anything else in particular
Note: Difficulty to wake up 1/10 (nothing particular)

Second night: 5 am-8 am (6h/48)
I felt very hungry in the morning
Easy to wake up, it’s like I’m still  in sleep phase 1 (rolling eyes)
Note: Yawn a lot after 16.00

After 2 nights I feel like I’m at the end of the 2nd cycle  in stage 1 (between awake and sleep)

Third night 5:09 am-8:25 am (9h/72) I overslept 16 minutes
I felt very hungry in the morning
Note: Today I got my first blackout, here is the story:

At 5:09 am I set an alarm for 8:09 am, put my phone on a table and fell asleep. At 8:25 I received an SMS and woke up, 16 mins after my alarm. What happened when my alarm rang ? HOW DID MY PHONE JUMP FROM MY TABLE TO MY BED ??? I have no idea what happened during those 16 minutes that I overslept. Did I wake up, stop my alarm and fall back to sleep ? It confirms that I’m in the stage between being awake and sleep. Waking up will be harder and harder, this time I was lucky. Will I be able to woke up properly tomorrow ?

This is so weird for me, it’s scary. I still have my daily routine, working everyday on my bike in traffic. I’m taking a big risk, I could sleep with eyes open while riding in the middle of traffic. I’m really afraid about how far can this go. Is a transition to an Uberman scheduled possible ?

Focusing problem: I was scrolling on my phone, reading Facebook updates, when I suddenly started looking for my phone to check something (the same phone I already had in my hand …)

The most difficult part of the day is staying awake after 3pm, a nap should with that. I feel I need to split my sleeping time in 2 or more but it will be hard to include the Uberman schedule in my daily routine.

 

After 1 week

I succeeded ! Waking up wasn’t the biggest problem, once you stand up, it is easier to fight drowsiness. My biggest problem was a very big need to go to bed during the night, it’s like waiting for your train when you are late, you get more and more nervous, stalking the clock while thinking “when it will come ?” I think that problem can be solved by doing something more entertaining, during the TCR we just look at the endless road, and it doesn’t help at all.

I could probably hold on like this for one more week. I expected to become physically weak, but it didn’t happen, instead of that I had a big decrease in mental strength.  It’s like that to “physically survive” my body convinced my brain to do less training, my will to do spin sessions and core training failed really hard,  (it literally obliterated my training program). During a race it can lead to scratching from the race. I now understand better that quote from the race manual:

“Never scratch at night” is good advice from accomplished endurance racers. That is to say always wait until morning to make any big decisions, things have a habit of looking a lot better after a night’s sleep. That advice has saved many a successful race campaign, including my own. – Mike Hall

And now ?

Now I want to go deeper in the experimentation and  try the Uberman schedule, I want answers to some questions. Can I live with less than 3 hours sleep per day ? How will I feel mentally and physically ? Will 3 hours sleep in the Uberman schedule feel the same as 3 hours continuous sleep ? Am I able to focus and ride ? When must I sleep ? and more questions.

To be continued …

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