Sleep Like a Professional Athlete

 There’s sleep, there’s good sleep, and then there’s sleeping like a professional athlete. When it comes to professional athletes, even good sleep isn’t good enough. If you have poor sleep habits, fixing your routine can feel insurmountable. But at the end of the day, mastering healthy sleep can make all the difference. The effectiveness of our sleep cycle impacts everything from work performance to mental health, and this is especially true for people with hectic professional lives. Regardless of your career, sleep affects us all. So how do athletes in pro sports manage to sleep perfectly every night and wake up to play their best? The short answer is they don’t. No one does. In fact, if you want to learn how to sleep like a pro, start by abandoning the idea of “perfect sleep.”

The Problem of Perfect Sleep

 Even elite athletes from star gymnasts to professional soccer players set multiple alarms, weigh the risks of a late night, and worry until dawn before a game or competition. Overcoming inconsistent sleep is a human problem, not just one that impacts high-achieving people. To elevate your sleep, start by addressing the way you think about sleep. Looking to achieve “perfect sleep” every night isn’t just a lofty goal, it’s an unrealistic one. It’s impossible to predict every variable that affects a night of sleep. A party next door, a sick child, a bad storm – the possibilities are endless. Not every night can be perfect, so rather than relying on perfection, real pros cultivate a pro-sleep culture. Healthier Sleep had the opportunity to speak with neurologist and sleep specialist Chris Winter, MD to learn more about the relationship between sleep and athletics. Dr. Winter works closely with professional athletes and helps them develop lifestyles that lead to higher quality sleep and subsequently higher quality sports performance. Much of Dr. Winter’s advice centers around a core idea: effective sleep is a lifestyle. A holistic approach to sleep that includes diet, activity, and mental health will always be more effective than attempting sleep “tricks.” Counting sheep might feel like an effective strategy for insomnia, but individuals looking for long term sleep improvement find more success by making broad adjustments to their mindset and daily habits.

Pro-Sleep Culture

So, what is a pro-sleep culture? According to Dr. Winter, adjusting how you and your support system view and react to sleep makes a big difference. Dismantling a culture that idolizes non-stop doing, and as Dr. Winter says, “setting a tone where sleep is supported” is the first step towards a better relationship with sleep. A pro[1]sleep culture doesn’t vilify getting the rest you need while simultaneously encouraging support and sleep education.

Stay Informed

That leads to his second piece of advice: stay informed. Sleep is like any other science in that we are always learning more about how it works and how to make it work for us. Dr. Winter recommends that athletes consult sleep specialists regularly. In fact, sleep specialists should be a core part of any athlete’s support team alongside dieticians and trainers. Beyond the obvious benefit of having an on-site expert, sleep specialists also help sort fact from fiction as new sleep research becomes available.

“Perfect Sleep”

Finally, perhaps the most vital advice of all: abandon the idea of perfect sleep. Dr. Winter explains that even if your sleep can’t be optimal, it can almost certainly be better. Making your sleep as good as possible is the goal. The occasional sleepless night will happen, but if you take steps to maintain a healthy diet, check in with a sleep specialist, and take care of your body, it won’t make or break your relationship with sleep.

Taking Your Sleep to the Next Level

Dr. Winter’s ultimate takeaway is a great lesson for everyone, train your mind to see sleep as something beyond a problem that needs to be solved. Sleep may come easily some nights and not others, but if you teach yourself to treat sleep as part of your overall health instead of a nightly battle, then you can start to cultivate a pro-sleep perspective. That perspective is what allows professional athletes to master sleep as thoroughly as they’ve mastered their sport. With the right mindset and routine, anyone can learn how to sleep like a professional athlete.


Subscribe for Free

Subscribe to the digital edition of Healthier Sleep for free! Issues are emailed to subscribers at least four times per year. Your email will be used for this purpose only.