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I would consider myself an advanced rider in that I’ve ridden a great many century (miles) rides, am an organizer of group road rides, and can change a flat in my sleep. I am not a racer.

The problem is I get anxious the night before a long ride. I use a pre-ride checklist, make sure my bike is well-maintained, use a planned route, send my wife or friend a link to follow my rides, and I still have trouble sleeping the night before.

What can I do to reduce or eliminate this anxiety and ensure a good night’s sleep and rest so I’m ride-ready?

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  • 8
    Can you elaborate more on what you may be anxious about? Is it unknowns about what may happen the next day? Or what the weather may bring? Or how your body is going to perform? Hard to answer without a little more context
    – Andy P
    Oct 13 at 7:27
  • 3
    You are not alone. This advice might not be for everyone, but a little xanax goes a long way.
    – Adam Rice
    Oct 13 at 14:45
  • 3
    @AdamRice: Seems like an overeager recommendation without having tried other things first. Why not a little cocaine or heroin?
    – phresnel
    Oct 14 at 14:13
  • 1
    Is cycling the only activity that prompts anxiety? If it is, then how do you feel or think cycling is different to everything else in your life? If not, does everything prompt angst, or can you make two lists? Oct 15 at 0:11
  • 1
    I greatly appreciate everyone’s comments on this page, and they’ve been extremely helpful! To answer @AndyP’s question: I think what is making me anxious is thinking that something will go wrong that will leave me stranded. Nothing catastrophic like an accident. More like a mechanical and having to make the “call of shame” or getting stuck somewhere without a cell signal.
    – schmelding
    Nov 13 at 4:38
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It’s the same for me. After years of bicycle trips and alpine adventures I still think and worry and plan days beforehand about basic things. Like how much water I’m going to pack. Or that slight ankle pain I felt a few days before.

I don’t think there is much you can do about it.

I try to make sure I’m as prepared as possible before I go to bed so that I have little (rational) reason to worry about things I might have forgotten. Sounds like you are already doing that.

In recent years I’ve come to the realization that a single night of little sleep doesn’t really harm my performance the next day. All the excitement and adrenaline means you won’t have a problem to stay awake and alert for many hours on the next day. This realization kind of helped me to relax because now at least I no longer worry about lost sleep. Worrying about lost sleep while trying to fall asleep is a vicious circle in its own right. Now if I can’t sleep I’m fine with just reading a book until midnight (or un-packing and re-packing my things again if it helps me to calm down ;) ).

My sister does races and I think she occasionally takes sleeping pills before race days because the benefits simply outweigh the negative side-effects of a single sleeping pill for her.

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You're doing everything right - just keep doing it, and revise your steps as improvements become evident.


I like to lay out my clothes and gear beforehand. Everything is either in a single pile/place ready to go, or already on the bike. Items like water bottles are chilling in the fridge, so they're an item on the checklist.

All batteries should be charged overnight.

For long routes, sometimes I print a map or a route list on old-fashioned paper and file that in the tool bag.

I also like to do any bike repairs at least a week beforehand, so they're all bedded in and tested before the big rides.

Have confidence that your checklist is the authorative list, and you've tested it repeatedly. Anything that doesn't help you should be removed.

Have confidence in your planning and personal abilities.

5

I don't get anxious before any but the biggest rides, but still have trouble sleeping. Partly I put that down to dwelling on thoughts of the need to sleep before an early start. So it may not be the anxiety as such.

I used to though - before my first few centuries/200km rides definitely, and before a double century or 300km until recently. I put this adaptation down to having done quite a few (like you) - 58 centuries in 4½ years but more importantly to having faced a lot of what can go wrong, and dealt with it, often on my own - multiple punctures ✓, bonking/severe fatigue ✓ (I now know how I am at plodding on beyond that even if I'm struggling to eat), crashes ✓ (one put me in hospital but I'm still here), major mechanicals ✓ (only 3 of which were ride-ending in 7 years and over 60,000km).

When I do still get anxious is before really long (for me) stuff, or when there's another challenge (weather, massive climbs, riding through the night, 400km+ rides, multiple days over 200km). You may be able to narrow down what worries you, to save too much worrying before some rides. You can consider how it turned out OK after all in the past. Keeping your toolkit ready, so you're not worrying about "did I put a quicklink in there" may also help.

What you can do straight away is get your preparation finished early - Thursday night for a Saturday ride - with a few final tasks early on the Friday evening, then relax. Plan a nice dinner (even if carb loading it can be tasty) but without alcohol, and do something not related to riding until bedtime. I don't think an exceptionally early night is helpful even before an early start.

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  • BTW I find it more surprising that I don't even sleep well after a long ride, especially a solo one. I suspect that's something to do with underusing my brain, that then wakes up when my body relaxes.
    – Chris H
    Oct 13 at 10:17
  • Major expansion once had time to finish the answer - some more tips
    – Chris H
    Oct 13 at 10:33
  • “I find it more surprising that I don't even sleep well after a long ride” Stress hormones can be powerful.
    – Michael
    Oct 13 at 13:15
  • @Michael maybe it's that too
    – Chris H
    Oct 13 at 13:16
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    @Carel some days, some drivers, I feel like I'm watching one during the ride
    – Chris H
    Oct 13 at 14:01
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Think of it this way... for once, you have a legitimately good reason to sleep poorly. Evolution would've primed us to worry before a long trek where we separate ourselves from the tribe, just in case we forgot something. Enjoy that your brain is working as intended and roll with it.

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  • 2
    While possibly a truthful observation, it doesn't actually seem to help.
    – DavidW
    Oct 13 at 14:14
  • It's an argument that help isn't needed, you don't need to fix this, just go ahead and worry. What's worse is getting upset over the fact you're worrying: that's unnecessary anguish.
    – meedstrom
    Oct 19 at 13:45
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Make sure you have a sleep-time ritual. For example, my watch goes off at 9:15pm. I then stop whatever I am doing, brush my teeth, open the relevant windows in my sleeping room, close the shutters against the light, get a glass of water for the night, go to the bathroom for a final time, and then it's lights out. Adapt for yourself as necessary - the key point is to always do it exactly the same.

Aside with any other measures for good sleeping (no alcohol; enough exercise but not right before bed; maybe light stretching to avoid restless leg syndrome if you have it; avoiding to drink too much so you don't have to get up so often at night, etc.), having a good ritual really made the most noticeable difference for me.

If, then, you simply cannot sleep, don't torture yourself trying to, but rather get up, read a bit, and try again when you notice that you cannot remember what you just read.

All of that said, I'd definitely dampen the expecation that you will get over the problem. From personal experience, as well as anecdotal, what you describe is pretty normal. No matter how used you are to these kinds of events. Even very successful and long-time athletes have this problem (example); the good news is that it seems that a single lost night does not really matter that much.

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You have learned that your departure night never involves getting plenty of sleep. That's rather normal and something to embrace.

  • Make room for a plenty of quality sleep on the night before.
    • ...or even on each of two previous nights, but that's an overkill for most people which may backfire; one can sleep only so much, and you are trying to time your sleep rhythm so that you are well rested during the ride.
  • Minimize stress on the last day before the ride using the excellent tips in the other answers.
  • Get plenty of horizontal, silent, dark rest on the departure night so that your muscosceletal system will not complain during the ride.
    • Close your eyes and look forward. If that gets too boring or too exciting, compromise on the darkness and pick up a book. Sleep some hours. Don't get up until the planned hour.

Your body and your head will be entirely ready in the morning even without a conventional amount of sleep.

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Thank you everyone for your comments. They’ve been tremendously helpful! Here’s what I’ve found:

  1. Identify the problem: I get anxious about being stranded by a mechanical issue and not being able to make “the call of shame.” Just realizing that has helped me find solutions for my situations.
  2. Getting good rest: I found taking a melatonin 1 hour before bedtime, then 1 more at bedtime has helped me sleep much better. Melatonin doesn’t leave me feeling groggy and is easy to shake off.
  3. Checklist: I get everything ready the day before, including a safety check on the bike, then forget about it — read a book, watch a show, play games with the fam.

Above all, remember Rule 49: Keep the rubber side down.

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Depends on what is the cause of your anxiety. Are you afraid that you will get into health issues? not beat your old record? Sometimes it is good to think about the source of the anxiety and how likely it is to happen or are you over blowing the issue. If it is safety related letting people know where you are and getting tracking device on your cellphone etc. are all valid but if it's based on I won't beat my old record maybe think to yourself how much does that matter at the end of the day.

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Speak to your doctor.

As you are clearly taking your preparations seriously and fulfilling the technical requirements of them, then this recurrent issue is arguably more of a medical question than a bicycle one and could be better answered by those with dedicated expertise.

As others have suggested, there are specific medical tools for these situations including physical and psychological techniques, and - of course - medication, including non-benzo options like propranolol which are often prescribed for addressing the physical symptoms of pre-event anxiety; a medical professional or other expert will be able to tailor the options to your particular situation.

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