Sleep affects endurance for race car drivers and this is how:
This man is no stranger to the world of motorsports. With a racing career surpassing 26 years, this Montreal-born driver has experienced every physical, physiological, and psychological impact involved when behind the wheel. Chris Green began karting when he was 9 years old in Quebec and went on to compete internationally in the years to follow. Eventually, he transitioned to racing and won the Quebec Formula Ford Championship and the Mont-Tremblant fall classic, amongst others. Currently living in Toronto, Chris’ career revolves around Canada-wide automotive, as the national brand manager for McLaren and Pagani Canada. His first-hand experience paints a picture on how sleep affects endurance and its impact on the important lifestyle choices needed by racecar drivers.
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: the world of motorsports is extremely athletic. The physical fitness required to practice and compete on a track is a major component to the sport. Not only is it necessary to be able to handle g-forces but it’s also the only way to survive driving at over 200km an hour for upwards of two hours at a time. Add to that the fact that it’s happening in a car that is completely enclosed, without any air conditioning, at a temperature of up to 45 degrees. The amount of endurance needed to work in these conditions would be impossible without the main ingredient – sleep.
In racing, recovery of the self is necessary to be at the top of your game. The way in which sleep affects endurance is crucial to understand, in order to take care of your body the best way possible. The body and mind aren’t able to recover and repair themselves without REM sleep (rapid eye movement sleep). REM sleep is what provides energy to the body and the mind to perform optimally. Lack of sleep can cause significant depletion of carbohydrate production, which is vital because those same carb stores are responsible for fueling energy during physical activity. How important is that to race car drivers, really? Simply put – very important. Let’s put things in context for the non-racers. Picture yourself at the gym holding a 20-pound plate with your arms stretched out for a few seconds. Feel the burn yet? Picture that same scenario in a racing suit (made up of several flame-retardant layers), in a hot car… for two whole hours – we haven’t even factored in the part where there is an actual race involved and several other drivers in the vicinity. Turning a steering wheel in a race car is equivalent to lifting that 20-pound plate. Without carbohydrate storage that is maintained by proper sleep patterns, the exercise proves significantly more difficult – that is how much sleep affects endurance.
Sleep has a major impact on performance and wins. Shorter bursts of sleep can also become problematic as the body doesn’t get a chance to repair from physical exertion and regenerating cells. The length and quality of sleep really impact the release of hormones in the body. During REM sleep, growth hormone is released, and cortisol is regulated. The release of growth hormone promotes the oxidization of fats and cortisol, our body’s stress hormone, directly impacts the way in which the body digests glucose. In a sport that tests endurance as vigorously as race car driving, sleep affects endurance by metabolizing glucose for later use is extremely important.
Weight maintenance and exercise are two components to racing that can affect any driver’s ability to perform optimally. With a specific diet and scheduled weigh-ins, an extra pound on the body can moving down in ranking, with just milliseconds off the clock. Because of their training and continuous practice, athletes, in general, tend to consume more calories than the average person. Proper rest and sleep become that much more important to them because their bodies require more recovery and sleep affects endurance and plays a big part in weight maintenance and sticking to their regimes. Just like training and nutrition, sleep is a commitment and it too has a learning curve. Without proper sleep, drivers can also experience decreased immune function. That decrease doesn’t allow the release of growth hormones and other hormones responsible for gaining and losing fat. One study, in particular, showed that athletes who were under-rested lost 20 pounds off their bench press after just four days of improper sleep. That kind of deficit could be the difference between first and second place on the podium. Low-quality of sleep can also have a big effect on mood and that negative impact can lead to poor lifestyle choices, like excess calorie intake and lack of discipline and motivation. To call sleep a pillar of success is an understatement. For drivers, sleep affects endurance, and that means all the difference.
How does sleep help race car drivers?
With his expansive career, Chris has been subject to hotel beds of both the high-end and low-budget variety. Getting that solid eight to ten hours a night can be super difficult in these environments, which makes the nights spent in his own bed all the more important. With the rush of adrenaline that accompanies race weekends and personal performance, the body is depleted even more than usual. Especially on the night before a big race. All of this further drives the point home that sleep is important to racecar drivers and athletes alike.
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