How Much Sleep Do You Need? Tips for Getting Better Sleep


Balancing life’s demands, including work, family, and home responsibilities, alongside your cycling training can be challenging, often leading to reduced sleep. Initially, sacrificing some sleep might not seem consequential. You may think you can overcome the initial tiredness. However, consistently missing out on enough sleep can negatively impact both your health and cycling performance.

Here’s the downside: lack of sleep can deteriorate your physical and mental well-being. The upside? You have the power to improve your sleep, and consequently, your overall performance and health. It requires dedication, but the results are worth it.

Sleep isn’t just a rest period; it’s a crucial aspect of your training routine, as emphasized by Cathy Goldstein, M.D., a clinical associate professor specializing in sleep medicine and neurology at the University of Michigan. She shared with Bicycling the significance of incorporating sleep optimization into your training schedule, just as you would your cycling sessions.

This guide isn’t just about the importance of sleep; it’s also packed with practical advice on how to actually achieve better sleep quality.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

The National Sleep Foundation suggests that adults, including athletes, need 7 to 9 hours of good quality sleep each night. Research hasn’t shown a need for more sleep in athletes compared to non-athletes.

A study in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance from May 2021 surveyed athletes about their sleep. The results? About 80% of them reported needing 7 to 9 hours of sleep, aligning with the general recommendations. However, it’s important to note that sleep requirements can vary significantly among individuals.

Feeling sluggish and in need of a boost? Both Dr. Goldstein and Dr. Avidan advise opting for a brief afternoon nap instead of caffeine and other stimulants.

Dr. Avidan highlights the rejuvenating power of a short nap, which can enhance your natural energy levels to help you stay active. Dr. Goldstein suggests aiming for a 30-minute nap, but setting aside about 45 minutes to include time to fall asleep. This brief rest can enhance your performance without affecting your nighttime sleep. Remember, napping for over 30 minutes might leave you feeling groggy or disrupt your sleep later in the evening, so it’s best to keep these daytime rests brief.

Identifying and Addressing Sleep Deprivation for Better Sleep Quality

Understanding your unique sleep needs is key since everyone’s ideal sleep duration varies. To recognize if you’re not getting enough sleep, pay attention to these signs:

  • Feeling tired during the day
  • Falling asleep when sitting still
  • Struggling workouts
  • Difficulty focusing on work or training
  • Experiencing a cloudy mind

Dr. Goldstein suggests a method to determine your ideal sleep amount: sleep without an alarm for several nights and note the average sleep duration.

However, many of us can’t afford this luxury and end up compensating for lost sleep on weekends. But this isn’t an effective strategy, as Dr. Goldstein points out. Consistent sleep patterns are crucial for maintaining your body’s natural rhythms, and sleeping in on weekends may disrupt this.

To improve your sleep quality, consider adopting these sleep-friendly habits:

  • Avoid afternoon caffeine
  • Reduce exposure to blue light in the evening
  • Keep your bedroom cool, ideally between 60-65°F
  • Exercise earlier in the day rather than close to bedtime
  • Spend time outdoors daily
  • Don’t eat right before sleeping
  • Ensure your sleeping environment is dark
  • Stick to a regular bedtime and wake-up schedule

Remember, exercise and sleep have a reciprocal relationship, as highlighted by Dr. Goldstein. A consistent exercise routine can enhance your sleep quality, benefiting both your athletic performance and overall rest.

If you’re still feeling tired after getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep regularly, it might be time to consult a sleep specialist. They can check for underlying disorders and help you develop a plan for quality rest, ensuring you’re at your best every day.

6 Benefits of Enough Sleep for Health and Performance

Lowers Your Risk of Health Problems

Sleep is crucial for your overall health. When you’re asleep, your body is busy repairing itself. This restorative process affects everything from heart health to insulin response. The National Institute of Health (NIH) highlights the connection between insufficient sleep and increased risks of various diseases like heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and obesity.

Improving Mental Performance

Dr. Goldstein emphasizes the importance of sleep for mental aspects of performance, possibly even more than the physical ones. When sleep-deprived, key functions such as focus, decision-making, and judgment are impaired. These are vital for high performance, especially in situations requiring quick thinking and safety awareness, like navigating new routes or responding to sudden obstacles.

Additionally, lack of sleep can alter your perception of discomfort. Dr. Goldstein notes that sleep deprivation can lead to an increased perception of exertion, making tasks feel more challenging than they are.

Enhancing Muscle Recovery

During sleep, especially deep sleep phases, the body releases human growth hormone, essential for muscle growth and tissue repair, as mentioned by the NIH. This process is crucial for muscle recovery, and without adequate sleep, this recovery may be compromised. Dr. Goldstein highlights that missing out on sleep could mean missing out on the physical recovery needed for peak performance.

Maintaining a Healthy Immune System

According to Alon Avidan, M.D., M.P.H., a neurology professor at UCLA and director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, getting enough sleep is essential for a robust immune system. The National Institute of Health (NIH) suggests that lack of sleep can alter how your immune system reacts to threats like bacteria and viruses. While the exact mechanism is still being researched, it’s believed that hormones released during sleep aid immune cells in navigating the body and coordinating an effective defense against illnesses, as per findings published in Physiological Reviews.

Enhancing Brain Function

A well-rested brain significantly outperforms a tired one. Dr. Avidan emphasizes the critical role of sleep in maintaining proper brain function. Sleep aids the lymphatic system in removing toxins and abnormal proteins from around the brain and spinal cord. This process is vital for learning, problem-solving, and decision-making, according to the NIH. Additionally, the NIH notes that sleep fosters the creation of new neural pathways, crucial for learning and memory retention. Dr. Goldstein points out the importance of slow-wave sleep, the deepest non-REM phase, in consolidating motor memories, like those involved in cycling.

Improving Mood and Reducing Stress

Restful sleep has a direct impact on mood and stress management. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services links good sleep with improved mood and stress handling. This can boost motivation for training and enhance the enjoyment of your workouts.

Conversely, sleep deprivation can lead to difficulties in managing emotions and adapting to changes, and is linked to depression, suicidal tendencies, and risky behaviors, according to the NIH. This can affect your ability to adjust to changes in your cycling routine or training plan, underscoring the need for a positive mindset fostered by adequate sleep.


a 35-year-old web developer and cycling coach based in Boulder, Colorado. Over the past ten years, my passion for cycling has transformed from a casual hobby into a way of life. As a lover of all things cycling, I am thrilled to share my journey with others who share the same enthusiasm for this incredible sport.