• Sleep deprivation impairs performance an average of 11%

    Most endurance athletes know that getting adequate sleep is important to top performance in training and races. At the same time, many competitive age group athletes are juggling careers, families, volunteer obligations and perhaps extended family care. Add the hours up for responsibilities and what remains is the daily budget for exercise, eating and sleep.

    It is not uncommon for busy endurance athletes to dashboard dine. That is, eating while driving or while doing work at a desk. This practice of distracted eating can lead to consuming too many calories, but that is another discussion.

    In my experience, a high percentage of cyclists, triathletes and runners will skimp on sleep before they will skimp on a workout. Most think, "What's a few hours less sleep?"

    Digging through research, there are few studies that examine the cost of sleep deprivation on athletic performance. One study done in 1981 compared the treadmill performance of eight people after a normal night of sleep, with performance after 36 hours without sleep.

    The study subjects performed prolonged treadmill walking to exhaustion at roughly 80 percent of VO2max. The performance decline after sleep loss was an average of 11 percent, with a range of 15 to a whopping 40 percent.

    Even though exercise heart rate and metabolic rate remained the same for both walks, the sleep deprived walk seemed significantly more difficult. That is, rating of perceived exertion for the same heart rate was much higher.

    If one bought of significant sleep loss affects performance so drastically, what does prolonged periods of sleep deprivation do to performance? What if you are only sleeping an average of five hours for weeks on end and still trying to perform your best at endurance sport?

    I suspect your training and performance are hampered significantly, more than just a percent or two. It is fair to say there is a good chance that if you skimp on sleep for long periods of time, your endurance performance will be below your capability level.

    So, what do you do if you're an endurance athlete? If time is short, should you skip a workout (or several) and try for extra sleep? Or, just operate on a sleep deficit?

    Likely it comes down to performance expectations in sport and life. The challenge is to balance life obligations with exercise and find the combination that makes you happy and healthy.

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