We humans are certainly a competitive bunch. But even though some friends may brag to you about how awesome they are at sleeping, there are, to the best of our knowledge, zero official sleeping competitions. (How would you even begin to score them? Total hours slept per session? Number of times awakened by a barking dog or car alarm? Would points be deducted for drooling?)
While sleeping itself isn’t competitive, it’s no secret that top athletes will try just about anything to gain an edge. That’s why many world-class sports figures have turned their attention to the realm of sleep in search of ways to improve mental and physical performance.
What can Olympians teach the rest of us about sleep? Here are a few tips and techniques collected from recent interviews with top athletes.
Sleep more before the Big Game. To perform at your highest level, whether it’s on the job or on the field, you want to be as rested as possible. Though this may sound obvious, it can be difficult to achieve. On the eve of a big competition, many athletes report trouble falling asleep. (Pre-match nerves can affect the best of us.) What do Olympians do when insomnia strikes? Their solutions range from taking a hot shower to limiting screen time before bed to sipping a soothing cup of chamomile tea.
Travel like a pro. Top athletes’ job description often includes serious globe-trotting: Long flights across many time zones resulting in jet lag. Strategies for quickly resetting the body’s internal clock include using natural supplements like melatonin and valerian root; wearing ear plugs and a room-darkening sleep mask to shut out distractions; and mentally rehearsing the next day’s performance.
Take naps, more naps and power naps. This is one nearly all athletes agree on. For many, the best time for a quick nap is immediately after a workout or practice session. Especially on days involving multiple matches or training periods, a nap of 20-40 minutes can help provide much-needed recovery time. Because so much healing takes place during sleep, even a short rest can yield beneficial results for taxed muscles.
Winning your personal battle for sleep supremacy will require more than a sprinter’s dash. Ironically, you may need to exert significant effort to get good at achieving optimum sleep—the kind that recharges your mind and body. But the rewards are worth it, whether your day’s activities include planning a sales conference, parenting a toddler or playing in the Olympic ping pong finals.