If you are like many of us, you are up late Saturday night working on your bike, even though you need to be up at the crack of dawn on Sunday to make it to the track on time. After all, what is more important than your bike? Did you say, “Sleep”? Probably not. After all, you’re young. You can probably get by on five or six hours a night, right? Don’t kid yourself. Believe it or not, lack of sleep may be what’s keeping you from reaching your potential on the track.
Motocross requires quick reflexes, stamina and strong muscles. Without enough sleep, you can forget about any of those things. Anyone who is serious about their racing needs to be as deliberate about their sleep schedule as they are about their bike set-up.
SLEEP: THE ULTIMATE RECOVERY PROGRAM
It’s so easy to think of sleep as a waste of time. Most Americans try to get by on the minimum amount so they have time for the important things. But sleep is one of the important things. While asleep, our brains and bodies go into repair mode; cells divide at a faster rate and get rid of waste material, our muscles repair themselves, we fight off infections and our brains sort out and file information that we have learned. Science still has a lot to learn about what happens physiologically while we sleep, but they do know what happens if we don’t get enough sleep. People who are sleep deprived experience real mental and physical health problems.
For a motocrosser, lack of sleep could have serious consequences. Studies show that next to alcohol, fatigue is one of the main causes of automobile accidents. If lack of sleep causes car accidents, just imagine how it can affect you on the track, where instantaneous decision making and quick reflexes are crucial to survival.
Whether you are a professional rider or a weekend warrior, sleep should be a priority. It’s not negotiable. When you don’t get proper sleep, your reflexes slow down, it takes longer to process information, your sense of humor is impaired and you are susceptible to illness.
HOW MUCH SLEEP IS ENOUGH?
The average person needs approximately eight hours of sleep, but some people need as little as six or as much as 10. The best way to find out how much sleep you really need is to spend a few nights going to bed early enough so that you can sleep until you naturally wake up and feel refreshed. Studies show that people who are dependent on alarm clocks are not getting enough sleep. If you are going to bed at a consistent time each night and giving yourself enough time to sleep, you should wake up naturally. But in order to do this, you may have to sacrifice the evening news or David Letterman.
While it’s true that many people can get by with six hours of sleep, athletes who are physically active need more sleep to fully recover from intense work outs. When we work out, our muscles are torn down. Resting allows them to repair themselves and get stronger.
Once you determine how much sleep you need, try to stick to the same schedule throughout the week. It’s not just the night before a race that counts, but how much sleep you get during the week. Setting a bedtime for yourself may sound like a wimpy solution, but it won’t take long before your body will thank you.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU CAN NOT GET TO SLEEP
Most of us have had the frustrating experience of not being able to fall asleep the night before a big race. Luckily, scientists have discovered that missing sleep on the night before an important day does not have detrimental effects-as long as you got plenty of sleep during the week leading up to the race.
However, if you consistently have trouble sleeping, you need to find out why.
SKIP THE CAFFEINE
With a Starbucks on every corner, coffee has gone from being a cup in the morning habit to a way of life. For too many people, that afternoon or after-dinner cup of coffee is still having an effect hours later when they are trying to sleep. Avoid caffeine the last six hours before you go to bed.
SAY NO TO THAT NIGHT-CAP
Many people find that a glass of wine or two relaxes them when they are out at a social event, so they think wine is a good sleep-aid. Not true! Although alcohol might help you to fall asleep faster, it keeps you from sleeping deeply and you wake up feeling groggy and tired.
CHANGE YOUR SCHEDULE
Working out in the morning or early afternoon may help you sleep better at night. However, if you work out too late in the afternoon, or work out especially hard, you may have a hard time falling asleep. Exercise increases your metabolism, not only while you are doing it, but for hours afterwards, which doesn’t sit well with the body’s natural tendency to lower your metabolism while you sleep.
WATCH FOR OVERTRAINING
Not being able to sleep is a classic sign of overtraining. That’s why most professional racers don’t practice the day before a race (or if they do, they take it easy). Overtraining can lead to illness and will short-circuit any improvements that you’re trying to make.
LEARN TO UNWIND
Stress and anxiety are the most common causes of not being able to fall asleep. That’s why the night before a big race you find yourself wandering the house in your jammies. If your mind is going over and over some problem (like how to get a good start), or if you find yourself with a general anxiety every time you go to bed, you need to change that habit. One way to reduce nighttime stress is to establish a nighttime routine.
(1) Skip the evening news. Studies have shown that watching TV before bedtime can actually increase the amount of time it takes people to fall asleep.
(2) Reading magazines or books will put everybody but Albert Einstein to sleep.
(3) Sign off of the internet. Don’t spend the time before you go to bed staring at the computer screen (4) Don’t balance your checkbook. You don’t need the pressure of knowing you have to win the next day to pay for the kid’s shoes.
(4) If you still can’t fall asleep, consider taking the time to write down what it is that you are worried about. Once you make the list, try not to focus on it any more, but tell yourself that you can worry about it in the morning.
STOP EARLY-MORNING SLEEPLESSNESS
While not being able to fall asleep at night can be a sign of anxiety or stress, waking up early in the morning can be a sign of depression. If you often find yourself not being able to sleep in the morning, you should talk to your doctor. Clinical depression is often something that needs medical attention. Many people don’t realize that depression is not just a problem in your head, but it can be caused by physical problems that may need to be treated. Of course, if you’re depressed because of your poor race results, and your results are bad because you aren’t getting enough sleep, you are out of luck!