It’s the world’s longest annual canoe and kayak marathon race: Yukon River Quest. A 715km race where paddlers from around the world paddle day and night along the Yukon River to reach the Dawson City for Canada’s 150th birthday.
How am I training for a 715 km paddle? Ask the race veterans and they won’t mention cardiovascular endurance, core or upper body strength. It’s the sleep deprivation that will get you. So, before you think I’m crazy for sleeping only 5 h in three days, let me ask you how many days in the last month you’ve gotten 8 hours of sleep1.
Welcome to sleep deprivation. Sleeping less than 6 h per night for 4 or more consecutive nights has been shown to impair cognitive performance and mood2, glucose metabolism3, appetite regulation4, pain perception and immune function5. In athletes, impaired carbohydrate metabolism, protein synthesis (aka muscle repair) can have a negative impact on athletic performance. And unfortunately for me, 2 nights of sleep deprivation significantly impairs athletic performance during submaximal endurance activities.
Bottom line, a minimum of 8 hours a night is recommended to avoid neurobehavioral changes and improve athletic performance1. To improve your performance at GTA’s next marathon, try the following recommendations1.
- Practice good sleep hygiene to maximize sleep quality and quantity.
- Ensure your diet is high in proteins and consume high glycemic foods 1-2 h before bed: white rice, pasta, bread and potatoes.
- Diets high in fat and calorically restricted diets may negatively influence total sleep.
- Halson, B. A., (2014). Sleep in elite athletes and nutritional interventions to enhance sleep. Sport Med. 44(1): S12-23.
- Belenky G, Wesensten NJ, Thorne DR, et al. Patterns of performance degradation and restoration during sleep restriction and subsequent recovery: a sleep dose–response study. J Sleep Res. 2003;12(1):1–12.
- Spiegel K, Leproult R, Van Cauter E. Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. Lancet. 1999;354(9188):1435–9.
- Spiegel K, Tasali E, Penev P, et al. Brief communication: sleep curtailment in healthy young men is associated with decreased leptin levels, elevated ghrelin levels, and increased hunger and appetite. Ann Intern Med. 2004;141(11):846–50.
- Krueger JM, Majde JA, Rector DM. Cytokines in immune function and sleep regulation. Handbook Clin Neurol. 2011;98:229–40.