Athletes and Sleep: Tips for Performance

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics is well underway, after a year-long delay due to the Coronavirus pandemic. With athletes devoting their life to training and preparing for large competitions such as the Olympics, how do they manage to get a good night’s sleep?

 Sleep Consultant and Neuroscientist, Dr. Jeffrey Durmer is devoted to helping various athletes by optimising their performance through sleep programmes. This year, he is one of the first staff members on an Olympic team that solely specialises in sleep.

Durmer said the pressure of competition and jetlag can often throw off an athlete’s sleep schedule during the Olympic Games. He also said many athletes are so focused on training as hard as they possibly can that they forget to make sleep a priority.

“I think it has changed a lot of the perception about sleep, where they all kind of looked at sleep, as, you know, I’ll sleep when I’m dead. I can work out three times a day,” Durmer said. 

Durmer said the most important part of his job as a sleep performance director is educating the athletes about the benefits and necessity of sleep as a group. Then, he studies each athlete to determine what sleep patterns will give them the best competitive advantage.

“If you can make if you can actually start to build that into your training routine, build your sleep routine, that actually will support all kinds of resilience, mental resilience, physical resilience, immune resilience, when you go to another country … So you can actually perform at your highest level,” Durmer said.


Durmer’s tips for athletes looking to get amazing sleep:

  • Simplify your routine

Create a bedtime that is at least 8 hours sleep and set an alarm on your phone to remind you. Slow down 30-45 minutes before sleep by practicing a simple calming behavior such as meditation, reading, stretching or anything that helps you “settle.”

  • Use your own biology to your advantage

Lower your body temperature before sleep by taking a warm shower or bath, then rapidly cooling your body in the air. A cool core is key to improving sleep. Activate your nervous system to fall asleep faster using meditative “belly” breathing exercises before sleep.

  • Eliminate before you add

Keep technology to a minimum by switching off devices and keeping away non-sleep-related objects in your sleep space. View your sleep space as a sleep sanctuary where nothing’s allowed in that’s not helpful for sleep. The same thing goes for sleep aids or supplements. Don’t add anything until you’ve eliminated light, noise, heat, bed discomfort or objects that stimulate wakefulness.

  • Include sleep as part of your training

Sleep is the basis for your performance the next day, no matter what your occupation. Rather than thinking about sleep at end of today, think about your sleep as the beginning of tomorrow.

  • Be mindful of your own sleep habits and pattern

Sleep quality may not be in your control all the time. If giving yourself enough time to sleep with a regular routine does not help you feel rested, you should seek some professional advice from a sleep physician- this could be a sign of an underlying condition.