By Sophie Hecht from the Space FoamTM team
From the World Cup to the US Open to March Madness, we see world-class athletes working hard day after day without showing signs of fatigue. They have an impressive amount of dedication to their sport. They work hard and train day after day in order to have maximum performance when game day arrives. But diligence and resilience are not the only factors that affect their skills. Many have stated that sleep is one of, if not the most important element of their ultimate performance. Athletes need sleep not only to improve their athletics skills, but also to restore their muscles. Otherwise, they will wake up feeling tight and sluggish. "We know that sleep loss is going to create significant detriments in performance," says Mark Rosekind, PhD, president of Alertness Solutions and a former NASA scientist. His studies have also shown that receiving two fewer hours of sleep one night can impact your performance so that it equates to how you would perform if you had a blood alcohol level of 0.05. If counting sheep is as important as scoring a goal, how do athletes make sure they get enough zzz’s before taking home the gold?
Sleep experts, like Rosekind, believe there are two main factors that affect sleep: environment and the bed itself. Environmental factors include, light, temperature, and noise. It is safe to say that everyone knows it is better to sleep in a dark room. Scientists believe that black out shades are ideal, but they should be left a crack open so some natural light is let in. Waking up to sunlight helps cycle your circadian rhythm and puts your body on track. Additionally, melatonin, the hormone that your body produces to help you sleep, is only released in low light. Regarding temperature, cool is definitely better than warm. Many suggest sleeping with layers of blankets and a controllable thermostat so you can adjust the temperature to the perfect degree for maximum sleep. Special mattresses and pillows, such as our Space FoamTM pillow, also can help with temperature regulation. Lastly, a quiet room is key to have a great night's rest. Intrusive noises, such as door banging, are most disruptive to sleep. By turning on light background noise, such as a quiet fan or soft music, can help mask that interruptive noise.
The second factor, the bed, is also extremely crucial. During the Olympics, athletes were originally provided with twin sized beds, which were problematic considering their size. Studies show that a comfortable bed is critical to a good night's rest. In came full sized beds topped with plush mattresses, multiple pillows, and oversized blankets. This was an easy fix for athletes and they were sleeping sounder instantly, even thousands of miles away from home.
Many athletes have shared their nightly routines to show how much they value their beauty sleep. Kevin Durant, the 2018 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, says that he gets eight to nine hours of sleep a night. He heads to bed pretty early so he can wake up early and get in a few workouts for peak performance on the court. Michael Phelps values quality of sleep over quantity. He sleeps in a chamber that simulates being at an altitude of 8,500 to 9,000 feet. That decreases oxygen and forces the body to work harder to produce red blood cells, which bring oxygen to the muscles. This both increases blood flow and endurance. Lastly, Lindsey Vonn, 2010 Olympic Gold medalist, is a big fan of getting some shut eye. She just isn’t herself on the slopes if she doesn’t get a good nights slumber.
Though we might not be running sprints and lifting weights as professional athletes do, our sleep is just important to our daily performance as it is to them. Try a few of these strategies and see how it affects your days work.