How Do Exceptional Athletes Sleep? 5 Habits From Those At The Top Of Their Game

September 3, 2018

benefits of sleep for sport and fitness

This post is in conjunction with TEMPUR® but all thoughts, words and research are my own.

Oh, I do love to sleep. Not only is it a time machine to breakfast, but the more and better quality of it I get, the better I feel. Studies show that athletes who sleep better perform better – especially if they get more sleep in the run-up to a competition – but what exactly does sleeping better mean? What night-time habits do exceptional athletes have to ensure their shut-eye is as effective as possible? Read on to find out about the sleep habits of Serena Williams, Katrin Davidsdottir, and more!

We’re always told to sleep 7-9 hours per night, but what do you do if you’re not dropping off as soon as your head hits the pillow, or if you’re in bed for that time, but not waking up refreshed? It’s part of an exceptional athletes’ job to ensure they’re well rested and ready to train or compete, so taking a look at their sleep habits to see how we can enhance our own shut-eye is a great place to start improving your nighttime hours, which in turn is proven to increase your training performance.

Getting a great mattress

We’ve just moved into our first bought home after living in a rented flat for seven and a half years, and I’m so excited to buy a brand new mattress to make my sleep better than ever! Serena Williams is one of my favourite athletes and is a TEMPUR® ambassador, having used their mattresses for 10 years. When she was pregnant she went to bed around 10pm and woke at 6 or 7am – which sounds like a dreamy night’s sleep to me – and credits her mattress for her consistent, restful sleep, helping to get her back onto the court so soon post-partum.

Sticking to their sleeping schedules

Another of my favourite athletes who is at the absolute top of her game right now is Dina Asher-Smith, who has jokingly said that she’ll sleep for two months after her incredible 2018 season. Normally, she’s in bed by 10.30, asleep by 11pm, and even sticks to her sleep schedule when travelling to a different time zone. “I’ll start adjusting before I leave. I’ll get up at 4am, even if I’m a zombie”, she says. This might be extreme for most of us, but it’s something we could practice at the weekends – trying to stick to the same sleep schedule at the weekend as you do in the week really makes that 6am wake-up to hit the gym a LOT easier.

benefits of sleep for sport and fitness

Waking up slowly

Katrin Davidsdottir is the current third Fittest Woman on Earth having won the title twice before, and loves a slow morning: waking up anywhere between 6.20 and 7am, drinking a big glass of water, making a big breakfast, and catching up on her reading, before hitting the gym for her first training session at 9am. The more time I spend waking up with my coffee, the more ready for the day I feel – sure beats the adrenaline rush and consequent crash after rolling out of bed and straight into PTing for 7am!

Taking a nap if they need it!

Most of our athletes so far have been power athletes, but how about sleep for endurance athletes? Paula Radcliffe needs no introduction, having held the women’s marathon World Record for 16 years. She seems to get a pretty normal amount of sleep, but as she used to do her long run training in the morning (10-23 miles), she would also get a decent nap in after lunch, too. Your athletic performance can improve after a nap, and a quick kip can be beneficial in learning new techniques and improving alertness.

Sleeping in smaller blocks

Have you ever tried sleeping in five 90-minute blocks? Me neither – this one is completely new to me, but from research it seems like something some athletes do, especially cycling athletes. Top athletes Cristiano Ronaldo, Laura Kenny, and Sir Chris Hoy are all clients of the same sleep consultant who believes that eight hours solid sleep upsets the body’s natural rhythm. Given that goes against everything we know about circadian rhythms it’s not something I’ll be trying any time soon, but it’s fascinating to hear about what works for some athletes under professional guidance.

So what have we learned from Serena, Dina, et al? It seems they all have very healthy approaches to sleep, achievable for us all – it’s not like they go to bed at antisocial times or do anything out of the ordinary. I think I’ll be leaving the shorter sleep blocks to the cycling gang as I love a long, solid kip, but it does show that sleep is a personal thing and you should listen to your body – if you’re tired day-to-day, feeling hungry, or finding it difficult to recover from training, then maybe it’s time you assessed your sleep to see if there could be any improvements made.

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Sarah fitness blog Manchester


Welcome to That Squat Bot! I'm Sarah, a Personal Trainer based in Manchester, UK.

I love strength and functional training, but I also love trying different types of movement and using my fitness outside of the gym. I'm vegan who loves avocados and vegetables as much as I love a great veggie burger. I'm also a massive Marvel nerd!

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