Consistent sleeps and 'rigorous' napping helps Olympians
Mandy Bujold, left, of Ontario, lands a blow to the face of Kim Klavel, of Quebec, during their 51kg bout at the Canadian Olympic boxing trials, in Montreal, on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, August 1, 2016 12:50PM EDT
On a good day, Canadian boxer Mandy Bujold will come close to spending as much time asleep as she does awake.
The goal for the 28-year-old flyweight is about 11 hours of shut-eye: a 10-hour sleep overnight and a one-hour nap in the mid-afternoon. Six hours of training per day leaves her eager to get under the covers.
"It's eat, sleep, train," she said. "Literally."
Bujold won gold at the last two Pan American Games and is expected to be a podium contender in the women's 51-kilogram division at the Rio Games.
Her usual routine includes a morning run, a visit to the gym in the afternoon and at least an hour-long nap between 2 and 4 p.m. Dinner is followed by another trip to the gym for more training.
She aims to be in bed by 11 p.m. each night.
"I have these blackout blinds in my house and I very rarely ever put them up," she said in a recent interview. "Probably like two or three times in the last year. They're just always down so it's dark and I can shut the lights off and sleep whenever I need to sleep and get that rest."
A quality sleep routine is one of the most important factors in an athlete's preparation ahead of competition.
Stuart McMillan, a coach at the ALTIS track and field training centre in Phoenix, said sleep patterns for athletes at his facility are worked into their routines. Programs include two seven-day stretches of 60-hour sleep weeks followed by a regeneration week where 70 hours is the goal.
"We do understand that sleep is a limiting factor to how well a person can move and how ultimately a person can move," McMillan said. "Their nutrition is obviously a limiting factor, how they supplement is a limiting factor, how they rest and what they do, what kind of therapy they're getting, the quality of the therapy, the quality of their sleep.
"All these other things that a young athlete, as a 21- or 22-year-old may not necessarily know yet."
If an athlete has a strong foundation when it comes to sleep habits, it makes dealing with hurdles like travel issues, jetlag or an uncomfortable bed or pillow a little easier. It also helps to minimize the effects of a restless night or anxiety before the event.
"Generally speaking athletes will tell you time and time again that they've basically had terrible sleeps or no sleep the night before and won world championships and gold medals," said Dr. Charles Samuels, the medical director of the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance in Calgary. "This has been looked at in a limited way in research, which is very difficult to do in sport.
"There's very little evidence that the night before is going to have a significant impact."
The key, as Samuels explained, is organization when it comes to sleep. Long-term consistency is key and "very rigorous" napping plans are helpful.
"That's the No. 1 thing," he said. "Get more sleep and be more routine."
And despite the best sleep intentions, sometimes real life gets in the way. Canoeist Mark Oldershaw and former Olympic swimmer Annamay Pierse welcomed the arrival of daughter Josephine last summer.
"It took a while to get her to sleep through the night," Oldershaw said. "She's doing well now, but it definitely was a challenge. Annamay's definitely been the leader because I needed to get sleep to train, but she's been a real champ.
"It did come down to really setting out a plan and a routine and just sticking to it, even when she was crying non-stop and sticking to your guns, as painful as it is."
With files from Canadian Press sports reporters Lori Ewing and Josh Clipperton.