Cycling races are often won by just a few seconds, so anything that legally can boost performance by minutes is worthy of consideration.
And it may just be a matter of getting more sleep, according to Australian researchers.
They discovered that endurance cyclists could complete 60-minute time-trials nearly two minutes faster after getting an extra 90 minutes sleep per night for three consecutive nights.
The findings are published in a paper in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
Spencer Roberts and colleagues from Deakin University had nine competitive cyclists and triathletes ride 60-minute time trials for four consecutive days on three separate occasions.
The first time they had their normal seven hours sleep each night, the second time that increased to eight-and-a-half hours, and the third it was just five hours.
Not surprisingly, the results on less sleep were poor – a 3% decline in performance.
However, there was a 3% increase in performance with the extra sleep – 90 minutes more than they, as professional riders, usually felt necessary. They finished their time-trials in an average of 56.8 minutes, compared with 58.7 minutes on seven hours a night.
In general, they reported the same rating of perceived exertion each time; that is, the ride felt just as hard regardless of how much sleep they had had.
However, Roberts says their mood and “psycho-motor vigilance”, or sustained attention and reaction time, improved with more sleep and were hindered by sleep restriction.
“Getting a good night’s sleep could be the missing piece of the puzzle to success,” he says “And for riders on the Tour [de France], getting a good night’s sleep could potentially be the… difference to wearing the yellow jersey.”
Roberts says previous studies have examined the benefits of regularly getting more sleep on ball and skill sports such as football, basketball and tennis, but theirs is the first to put endurance athletes to the sleep test.