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Inside RAAM – Sleep Deprivation

by on July 18, 2015

Most of my expectations about how our RAAM Team would manage our rotations provided the opportunity to get some good sleep, even it it would be only for 2-3 hours at most.  Unfortunately, my expectations were not the same as the schedule that evolved and we implemented.  I believe we chose one of the most inefficient strategies and one that led to significant sleep deprivation issues.  Having said that, I agreed to the plan.

What developed was 15 minutes of riding and 45 minutes off for each of the team members.  We kept this up pretty much around the clock during most of the 7 days.  There were times when we would allow a teammate to skip a cycle or two to get rest, but that was actually quite rare.  It wasn’t because it wasn’t offered.  Each of us wanted to ride and believed that we needed to share the effort equally.  One of the first time I took an extra rotation to let my van partner sleep an extra cycle, I got chewed out by him for making him skip a turn riding.  As a larger team, there were two significant (2-2.5 hour sleeps) scheduled.  One happened in eastern Colorado.  The other happened (or more accurately was supposed to happen) in eastern Ohio/western West Virginia.  Mechanical issues with a bike meant this sleep stop was skipped for our van.

I took advantage of opportunities to sleep as often as I could, but what that meant was 20-30 minute naps.  I was amazed that I could be sleeping one minute, be woken up for my shift on the bike, and be riding at 20 mph in under a minute.  There were many such times along the route.

The one time the longer sleep period failed led to some significant consequences for me.  (My partner in the van got less sleep than I did and suffered similar symptoms for much longer.)

Outside of Grafton, WV my mind got very fuzzy.  I knew that I was riding a bike but my field of vision was very narrow.  It was as if I could only focus on a few key things.  I remember starting part way up a hill and continuing a significant climb for my time in the rotation.  After that, I remember my next rotation on the bike being more climbing.  There was wind.  There was rain.  It was dark.  For all I knew I was above the tree line in Colorado … at least that’s how it felt to me.  The crew expressed concern that I wasn’t thinking correctly, and I remember arguing with them.  There was an incident where my van partner started riding too soon and he was completely confused about what was happening.  I fell out of the van as it started to move, and was nearly run over by the rear wheel.  I got back in the van, and laid down for sleep.

The crew tells me that 30 minutes later they couldn’t wake me up.  They let me sleep.  Sometime later (I think about another 30 minutes) I woke up and sat up in the van.  But at this point, I didn’t know who I was, where I was, what I was doing, and what those other people were doing in a moving vehicle.  I was cold and wet and very confused.  I think I just sat there trying to work all this out.  I don’t recall asking any questions.  I remember seeing the route book and thinking that this must be some bicycle race, but I recall thinking that it was some kind of loop in West Virginia … near Grafton.  I heard people speak about Nancy, but I had no idea who that might have been.  Gradually my brain began to make sense out of what was happening.  It came back slowly.  I was back on the bike again riding before all of it made complete sense to me.  My focus was still very narrow.  I had to be told just about everything to do.  I do recall someone bringing food.  I really wasn’t clear again until I rode through Cumberland.

In the stretch between Cumberland and Hancock I still really wasn’t ready to ride.  I feel bad about that because I didn’t do any of that tough climbing.  I slept some of that stretch.  After that, I was good to go.  I could function appropriately and although I was tired, I could think reasonably clearly.

For me, the serious sleep deprivation issues lasted just a few hours.  For my partner, it was significantly longer.  But this is about my experience, not about his.  I will say that I was able to help orient him several times, mostly by moving in close so that we were face to face and explaining in simple terms what was happening.  I took advantage of his narrow focus.  Taking extra rotations so he could sleep also helped.

From → Cycling

One Comment
  1. Yikes! This is scary stuff, Earl. I’m so glad you and your teammates are safe. You’ve convinced me that should I ever attempt such a feat, hour-long pulls would be the minimum I would consent to. Then again, you folks are the ones who won your age group. What do I know?

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