Sleep Like an Olympian
For all athletes, getting the proper amount of sleep is crucial during training and competitions; in fact, this simple thing can often make or break their performance. It’s no secret that sleep is important for everyone, but for athletes that train close to 40 hours per week, the impact of sleep is magnified.
"Not only do athletes need sleep to improve on their athletic skills, but the restoration that occurs within muscles during deep sleep is important," says Sara Mednick, PhD, a sleep researcher at the Salk Institute, in a recent article. "If you don't get enough sleep it can be detrimental to your performance."
As the world’s best athletes travel to South America, we decided to look into how these athletes dominate sleep. Because you shouldn’t have to be an Olympic athlete to sleep like one.
Create the Optimum Sleep Environment
One of the most important factors of a good night’s sleep is the environment in which you’re sleeping. For the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, officials at the Olympic training facility in Colorado brought in Mark Rosekind, PhD, president of Alertness Solutions and a former NASA scientist, to evaluate the athlete’s sleeping conditions.
"First, we looked at environmental factors for the room, for example, light, temperature, and noise," Rosekind said in 2006. "Temperature-wise, cool is better than warm. You need to have some kind of accurate control, like a thermostat, or have things like extra blankets so you can control the temperature during the night."
Rosekind also mentioned that the best sleep environment is a sufficiently dark room, but not so dark that you cannot see if you need to get up in the middle of the night to use the restroom.
Consistency is King
Your internal body clock functions at its best when you’re adhered to a schedule. Make sure you’re going to bed and waking up at the same time every night and morning – even when you just want to sleep in. This will help keep your body’s natural rhythm in tune. If you feel like you need to catch up on more sleep, opt to go to bed early instead of staying in the sheets until late in the morning.
Avoid Alcohol and Late Night Food
It comes as no surprise that alcohol is off limits to world-class athletes – especially during prime training and competition seasons. This is because alcohol – although it can feel like a great nightcap –actually disturbs your sleep at night and is best to avoid when you’re trying to catch some good Zzz’s. Also, limit the late night snacking as the sugar in foods can keep you up into the late hours of the evening.
Find What Works For You and Stick to It
Many Olympic athletes need anywhere from seven to 12 hours of rest each night, depending on the individual and the amount of training each sport requires. If you find that seven hours isn’t enough for you, adjust your sleep schedule to get more sleep. Everyone is different – there’s no shame in needing more shut eye to be at your best during the day.
Track Your Sleep if You Can
There are a variety of wearable devices on the market that can help to track your sleeping patterns. Find one that works for you and track your sleep cycles over the course of several weeks. Set goals to make small improvements based on how you’re sleeping and then work to achieve those goals.
Some of these changes may seem minor, but to athletes and the rest of us alike, it makes all the difference in the world. Try these few simple tips and cheer on your favorite competitor… right after a nap.