We can’t all snowboard like Jarryd Hughes or ski like Matt Graham, but we can take a page from their books when it comes to sleep. Every athlete worth their salt knows that rest is just as important as training when it comes to athletic performance. Thus, by necessity, Olympic athletes are champions in the sheets as well as on the field (when it comes to sleep, of course). That said, it’s important to know that quality sleep carries enormous benefits people across the physical activity spectrum. No matter how much exercise you do (or don’t) get, you need seven to nine hours of shuteye per night.
According to Dr. Mark Rosekind , a sleep specialist who works with Olympic medalists, sleep has only recently come to the forefront of interest for athletes. Blame our society’s counterproductive obsession with productivity and performance at the expense of recovery time.
Thankfully, the medical community is waking up to the importance of quality rest (no pun intended), and Olympic athletes and couch dwellers alike are reaping the benefits. We now know that sleep is when the majority of healing takes place—including small muscle tears that occur as a natural consequence of strength-building exercise. Quality rest also improves your coordination and stamina, making it that much easier to get a good workout in. However, you don’t need to be straining your muscles to need a good night’s sleep. Even sedentary people’s bodies experience a great deal of cellular wear and tear on a daily basis.
Kikkan Randall, a six-time Alaskan Olympic cross-country skier, recently told Van Winkles : “I try to aim for between eight and a half and 10 hours of sleep a night. I’ll go to bed around 10:30 p.m. and wake up between 7 and 8 a.m." Chris Creveling, a speed skater, said : "If I had a hard training the day before, which is usually the case, it’s definitely important for me to nap. I’ll nap for 20 to 40 minutes, and that’s enough time for your body to recuperate and it allows your mind to calm as well."
In short—prioritize your sleep, take naps when you need them, and remember that sleep is as much a biological necessity as food, water, and air. Surviving on minimal sleep should not carry a badge of honour. We encourage you to challenge the culture that tells you to put sleep at the bottom of your priority list and promise that your goals, athletic and otherwise, will only benefit from a lifestyle that includes adequate rest.