Dealing with Sleep Deprivation in UltraCycling
Lot of people ask me about how to ride sleepless in ultra-cycling races? How to keep your focus in those long rides throughout the night?
Any ride or race above 500 to 600 km will need you to ride throughout the night or over a period of 24 hours. Races like Race Across America or Trans Siberian Extreme will require you to be sleep deprived for many days. For example, when I was riding in Race Across America, I went riding continuously for first 24 hours and then started taking sleep breaks every day. I used to be on the bike for 21 to 22 hours everyday and sleep for around 1.5 hours to 2 hours. So riding without proper sleep is a part of the sport of ultra-cycling. When I started ultra-cycling, my friends made me realize of my ability to ride long distances without sleeping and at the same time maintaining good speed. That was the trigger point to attempt RAAM Solo and get it done successfully in 2017 and then Red Bull Trans Siberian Extreme in 2018.
So how to ride sleepless?
1. Eat small meals starting in the evening and throughout the night. Less food in the stomach at a time will keep more blood in the legs and help you ride faster in the night.
2. Start yourself on caffeine from evening itself and don’t wait for the night or don’t wait to feel sleepy. Drink energy drinks like Red Bull or Coke, they have large amount of caffeine in them.
3. Keep supplying yourself with caffeine throughout the night according to the recommended doses. Caffeine tablets are also a very good option. I only use all this in the race and not in general daily training.
4. To get maximum effect of caffeine during the race, keep yourself off the caffeine during training and daily life.
5. Crew plays important role in keeping you awake during night time. It is a very important job of the crew to keep talking to the rider and keep the rider motivated to ride through the night. During RAAM, my crew used to talk to me on interesting things and keep me awake and alert. Few times they also connected to me to my friends in India. It was great to talk to people back home in India during RAAM, it motivated me a lot and gave lot of emotional energy.
6. Think and behave like a ghost. It is very hard to explain how to do this. But I did lot of ghost riding in Trans Siberian Extreme. Think as if you are possessed with some spirit to do this. Your thinking will make things happen.
7. Talk to yourself. Talking to yourself on those lonely roads in the night will help you reaffirm the belief that you can successfully finish the race.
8. Listen to music. One of the best way to deal with sleep deprivation and lonely night rides is music. Always keep a music player with all your favorite music to play. Singing along with the song on the bike helps you to become more alert and ward off sleep.
9. Don’t wear too warm clothes. Very warm and cozy clothes will make you feel cozy and your mind and body would want to go for a sleep.
10. If you become too slow and feel very sleepy and your cycling speed is going down, it is better you go for a sleep. 1 to 2 hour sleep will help your mind to reset itself and become mentally oriented. It is always good to take this sleep break at 3 AM in the night because when you get up and get on to the bike, you will get the first few rays of the sunlight and they will take your sleep off and you will feel very energetic to ride again.