Epic runner and cyclist Sam Boatwright is preparing to stay awake for up to two days as part of his bid to beat the record for cycling non-stop from John O’Groats to Land’s End, starting on August 21. To succeed Sam will need to go without sleep for up to 44 hours.
“Sam’s record attempt is typical of many endurance feats that sees athletes push themselves to the very limits,” said Lisa Artis, of The Sleep Council. Warning of the dangers that lack of sleep can bring she said: “When you stay awake for too long, your mind and body start to do extraordinary things. There is a great deal of mental stress involved too.”
Sleep deprivation impacts in serious ways. Tiredness can impact on driving ability, reaction times and judgement and causes poor concentration, thinking, memory, increased irritability and hostility.
Said Lisa: “Sleeplessness leads to hallucinations and sensory dysfunction. Noises become louder, vision is affected and sufferers start to isolate themselves. Sleep deprivation can lead to mental meltdown. Forcing someone to stay awake is a known torture technique used in enemy interrogation!”
The Sleep Council offers some advice on surviving staying awake to those who are planning to go without sleep:
- Try a couple of hours of pre-endurance snoozing. You’ll feel more alert and ready to exercise, BUT – allow at least 20 minutes after waking up before you do anything important. It takes that long for the brain to wake up.
- After a big effort at the weekend you can use the early part of the week to get in some extra “recovery” sleep.
- You can also “store up” extra sleep in advance. If adrenalin allows, bank some extra snooze over the couple of nights prior to your big activity. Your body will be slightly more resilient to any sleep deprivation.
- What’s your bed like? A good dry mattress really does make a difference to how well you sleep. It’s a well-known fact that some athletes now have their own mattresses transported wherever they go!
- Coffee, tea and chocolate all contain caffeine and related chemicals which promote wakefulness.
- Lavender, passion flower, hops, orange blossom, Scot’s pine, camomile and peppermint all claim to promote sleep. And milky night time drinks really do help bring on the Zzzs.
- The Romans thought that lettuce was good for sleep, but the crème-de-la-crème “sleep sandwich” has to be a banana, marmite and lettuce buttie: the banana and marmite contain natural substances that help induce sleep.
- Over-the-counter sleep aids (containing promethazine, diphenhydramine, etc) may help you get drowsy, but be aware that they stay in the blood stream for eight hours and longer. You may get to sleep, but you might not feel well when you try to get up.
- Maximum sleepiness occurs when your biological clock temperature is at its lowest – usually around 4am. Your personal level of alertness is controlled by your biological clock and by how much sleep you have had. Remember sleeplessness leads to poor concentration, thinking, memory, increased irritability and hostility.