Alaska Sleep Education Center

Sleep Like an Olympian

Posted by Julia Higginson on Feb 13, 2018 6:50:00 AM

The 2018 Winter Olympics are underway.  As we look forward to seeing some of the world’s greatest athletes compete for gold, it’s easy to wonder what Olympians do each day to keep in tip-top shape.

olympics3.jpgA healthy diet and rigorous training schedule are paramount to the success of any Olympic athlete. But did you know that sleep is just as important to an Olympian as hitting the slopes or the ice?

Olympic athletes need to get at least eight hours of quality sleep each night. Sleep is so essential to making it to the podium that sleep is made a part of the training schedule. Athletes pay attention to relaxing before bedtime, creating a sleep friendly environment, and going to bed and waking up at a consistent time each day.

For those of us cheering from the sides, learning how to sleep like an Olympian can be just as important for our health and performance. 

Sleep Strategies

The same sleep strategies used by Olympians can be applied in your own life. Most of us know that a good night’s sleep can drastically change our health for the better. 

For Olympic athletes, poor sleep leads to a decrease in how they preform. Sleepiness can lead to lower levels of alertness and sluggish movements. Athletes have to be awake and alert. Especially when the difference between gold and nothing is often milliseconds or the precision of just one move. 

Sleep is also essential for muscle recovery for athletes. Without sleep, athletes can’t train at their peak because their muscles aren’t benefiting from quality sleep.

You would never imagine an athlete showing up to their event drink, yet studies show that a loss of even two hours of sleep can impact your performance the same way as if you had a blood alcohol level of 0.05[1].

 Preforming as an Olympic athlete on the same level as if you were drunk seems ridiculous. Yet a night of tossing and turning or even a night cut short can leave an Olympian without a medal at the end of the fames. So what does the optimal sleep environment look like for an Olympic athlete?

Everything from lighting to bed type to alarm clock can impact sleep. Even the slightest tweaks to the sleep environment can have a positive or negative impact on performance.Athletes are constantly having to get used to new time zones and different sleep environments and are expected to be in peak condition when they wake up. Getting a sleep routine that can travel the world makes a difference.



Sleep Environment

The trick to getting a good night’s sleep is having the right sleep environment. Proper lighting, noise control, and temperature can help clue your body into the fact that its time to fall asleep.

If you live in area with lots of outside light, blackout curtains can help keep your room dark. All lights in your sleep area should be keep low but not so much that your home is pitch black. No lights can mean that you can stumble or even get hurt as you make your way to the bathroom at night.

An overly hot room can cause you to be uncomfortable. The cooler the better when you are picking the temperature for your bedroom. Noise — such as passing cars, closing doors, talking — can interrupt your sleep. White sound machines or a fan can be used to drown out annoying noises that can disrupt your sleep. 

Beds and Bedding

How comfortable your bed and bedding is a big deal when you need a good night’s sleep. An uncomfortable bed or scratchy blankets can prevent you from sleeping.

Mark Rosekind, PhD, a former NASA scientist, board member for the National Sleep Foundation, and President of Alertness Solutions, evaluated athlete’s sleep environments prior to the Winter Olympics in Torino. Rosekind found that athletes slept better on full size plush top mattresses with lots of pillows.

A bed that is too small, too hard, or too soft can prevent peaceful sleep and even cause pain as you lie down. The time might be right to change your bed if you aren’t feeling comfortable.

Cotton sheets and blankets were also found to be the best for sleeping because they allowed for airflow and prevented overheating. Freshly cleaned bedding can also help you relax; sleeping on dirty or smelly bedding can make you uncomfortable to the point where you can’t fall asleep.

Sleepy Time

When you think of Olympic athletes, you might think of the old adage, “you snooze, you lose.” Skipped sleep can mean you can fit in extra training time, right?

Wrong. Lost hours of sleep do not give you an edge in any competition — including everyday life. All of an athlete’s hard work can be wasted if an athlete doesn’t get the right amount. The amount of time you sleep is just as important as the quality of your sleep. The general recommendation for sleep is at least eight hours a night. Sleeping well for at least eight hours a night lets your body rejuvenate after a hard day’s work — no matter if your work was training for the Olympics, cleaning house, taking care of family, or going to work.

The best way to get the recommended amount of sleep is to create a consistent wake up time and bedtime. Olympic athletes’ count sleep as part of their training time. You should count your sleep as one of the most important tasks you complete each day. Choosing a consistent wakeup time includes resisting the urge to hit the snooze button. Using the snooze button can trick your body into not waking up when you need to be awake. 

Sometime getting eight hours of consistent sleep is not always realistic. In cases when sleep disruptions are unavoidable — think parents of infants or people with on-call work schedules —naps become essential in helping make up for lost sleep time.


Before Bed

Olympic athletes are also careful about the activities they engage in before bed. Bedtime needs to be a time of quiet and low-key activities so your body knows it is time to wind down for sleep.

Some ways you can help your body wind down is to take a relaxing walk, read a book (a real one, not one on your phone), and limit or even eliminate the use of technology for 90 minutes before bedtime.

You also need to watch what you consume before trying to snooze. Alcohol and caffeine can lead to poor sleep. The consumption of alcohol and caffeine can also lead you to feel exhausted and out of sorts the next day.

Sleeping like an Olympic athlete is something that each of us can shoot for. A good night’s rest can help us preform at our peak — even if we aren’t sleeping so we can compete for a gold medal. What you do each day is just as important and you deserve to sleep like a champion.

If you aren’t getting the quality of sleep you need, give us a call at the Alaska Sleep Clinic so we can help you make a gold medal plan.



Topics: get better sleep, sleep habits

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