The Rio Olympics have come to an end, leaving us with many impressive displays of sheer, almost superhuman, athleticism to talk about around the water-cooler. Seeing the contrasting pictures of medal laden winners and the disappointed, “unburdened” (no medals around their necks), athletes going back home leaves us wondering; what sets the medalists apart from the rest? Is it the grueling training, natural talent, or something else? What is the “unfair” advantage that enables these athletes to outshine their opponents? It might sound fanciful, but it just may be their attitude towards sleep.
Yes, sleeping may give competitors the upper advantage. However, in the face of such stiff opponents, how can one focus on sleeping? While you snooze, your opponent could be training longer and getting better. The old adage, “you snooze, you lose,” must have come from somewhere, right? That’s what we’ve always been told. Well, when it comes to performing at your peak, it’s wrong!
Needless to say, it takes an obscene amount of training, willpower, perseverance and, pure discipline to be able to compete at the prestigious level of the Olympics. However, all that hard work runs the risk of going to waste if competitors’ bodies aren’t properly rested. The logic here is simple; sleeping well to let your body rejuvenate after a strenuous bout of training is equally important as training hard. Sleeping creates a balance between pushing the body to its limits and then rebuilding itself. After all, a top performing race car is worthless if it isn’t meticulously maintained.
Let’s take a look at how some Olympians go the extra mile for their sleep.
Monotony is good!
No one like monotony. The feeling of being stuck in a rut day after day is downright off putting. However, when it comes to sleep, Sam Ojerkis, the coxswain of the U.S rowing Olympic team, swears by being boring. He maintains a very strict routine: wake up early at 5AM, practice, practice, practice and hit the bunk by 8PM every night. No deviations.
Madison Hughes, U.S Olympic Rugby team’s captain, agrees that the key to good sleep is getting to bed on time and getting enough of it. As someone who would stay up late and sleep in later the next morning, Hughes never felt at his best. Hughes has had to take the bull by the horns and change his sleeping habits for the better by sheer force of will.
It may not sound that fun, but having a fixed bedtime is important to rejuvenate your body. Sleeping helps your body maintain your internal clock efficiently, allowing you to fall asleep faster and get more quality sleep than you would if you went to bed and woke up erratically.
Mind over Matter!
How many times have you stayed awake all night, tossing and turning, kept awake by your thoughts of previous or next day? There could be a myriad of reasons you can’t seem to fall asleep, like a big test, a client presentation or a high stakes competition.
Just like us non super-athletes, Olympians go through a roller coaster of thoughts and emotions before going to sleep but on scale you can’t imagine. Olympians have to perform at their peak in front of millions of viewers across the globe to take a shot at what is, for many, a once in a lifetime opportunity. How do they cope?
Sandi Morris, U.S Olympian pole vaulter says she tries not to “stress it”. It is easier said than done, amidst the emotions and scary thoughts about the competition the next day, Morris has trouble falling asleep. To cope, Morris imagines calming ocean sounds and tries to keep away all negative, overbearing thoughts out of her head till she falls asleep.
On a similar note, Gabby Douglas, U.S artistic gymnast says that she takes time to meditate before bed. Douglas expresses that it helps clear her mind and relaxes her body for her much needed eight hours of snooze time to stay on top of her game.
Getting the right tools for the job!
U.S Track and Field star Olympian, Kerron Clement shuts down all electronics before going to bed. Clement doesn’t want his sleep to be disrupted by his phone buzzing at night.
Athletes need to be very particular about their sleep hygiene. They have a very demanding lifestyle, often having to quickly acclimate their bodies to different time zones when traveling for competitions. They need to be at their best straight out of bed. Here’s what helps:
- Avoiding bright lights and electronic devices before bed.
- Making sure there are no intrusive noises coming in during the night, often using white noise machines to mask punctuating sounds.
- Ambient temperature is key; 65 degrees Fahrenheit has been scientifically proven to be the most conducive to sleeping well.
Some athletes also go a bit overboard when it comes to augmenting their already stellar performance with quality sleep. Michael Phelps, a decorated U.S swimmer, doesn’t want to stop at anything short of gold. He has a specialized chamber1 installed in his bedroom that simulates the experience and atmosphere of sleeping at an altitude of 9000 feet. While that is really cool, it would set you back a cool $15,000!
These sports stars have it all figured out when it comes to getting proper sleep. Their advice is definitely sound and something that everyone can and should use, Olympic athlete or not. We all have to perform at our best in our respective roles, and proper sleeping etiquette and a good night’s sleep is guaranteed to bring about a positive effect.