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Sleep Like an Olympian: July 30, 2012

World-class athletes competing in the Olympics obviously need their sleep if they're going to bring home the gold. For those of us who can only dream of top-level gymnastics and track, counting sheep is just as important.

“More has been learned about sleep over the last decade than the last century beforehand,” says Dr. Jose Colon, a sleep specialist with Lee Memorial Health System.

We’ve all heard of power naps, but the power of sleep may be underappreciated when it comes to athletic performance.

“There is some rejuvenation in our brain that we do from sleep but there’s also a lot of active function that occurs in our head during sleep,” says Dr. Colon.

Olympic athletes recognize the value of sleep and you can benefit from their experience. Experts at the Olympic Training Facility individualize sleep profiles for the athletes, centering on a few key areas: temperature, light and noise.

“There’s no golden rule as far as temperature, but a comfortable temperature is what’s recommended,” says Dr. Colon.

Cool is better than warm for most people. It’s easier to put on blankets than sweat through the night. Noise is a bit tricky. You’ll want to block out distractions, like the television, loud talking or banging doors. But some sounds can be quite relaxing.

“Like a white noise, the sound of a fan, or the sound of an mp3 player with an ocean or a rain forest, crickets chirping, something that we specifically associate with soothing and with sleep,” says Dr. Colon.

The most important factor is light.  Sleeping in no light, even if it means using black out curtains because darkness triggers the release of melatonin.

“Melatonin is a sleep promoting hormone that our body makes.  All day long, our light that is entering our eyes is suppressing that melatonin.  Now night comes, you pull the switch from the suppression; you get this release of melatonin,” says Dr. Colon.

The art of sleep is crucial to peak performance of everyday life.