The Rest is History: How Pros Manage Sleep


As athletes continue to explore avenues for gaining a competitive edge, sleep seems to have emerged as one of the most important tools in their performance arsenal.

While sleep requirements are highly personal, today’s research seems to agree that on average, North Americans are not getting enough quality sleep. Technologies like cell phones and video games are also impeding our ability to properly “unwind” at the end of the day, and negatively impacting our ability to fall into a restful sleep.

While there is much to be shared about the science of and research conducted on sleep, this article will focus on some of the sleep habits of a few of the best athletes in the world and share a few thoughts they have on the subject.


Tom Brady (Quarterback, New England Patriots)
Whether or not he sleeps on a “deflated” pillow we do not know. We do however know that Brady goes to bed every night, religiously, at 8.30pm. He credits his sleep habits as a major contributor to his ability to play at an elite level as he’s approached 40. “The decisions that I make always centre around performance enhancement,” he says. “I want to be the best I can be every day.”

 LeBron James (Forward, Los Angeles Lakers)
The four-time NBA MVP swears by 12 hours of sleep per day when training or practicing. During the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals, James was asked how he planned to prepare for Game 7 against the Celtics, his response, “Try to get as much sleep as I can … that’s the best recovery that you can possibly get.” This is a bold statement from a player who reportedly spends more than $1 million per year on diet, training, and physical therapy.

Usain Bolt (9x Olympic Gold Medalist)
Despite his demanding schedule, the world’s fastest man relentlessly schedules 10 hours of sleep per night. He explains, “Sleep is extremely important to me – I need to rest and recover in order for the training I do to be absorbed by my body.”

Kyle Long (Guard, Chicago Bears)
Long has been an advocate for extended sleep ever since his first NFL training camp, when the team hosted a session on the benefits of proper sleep. “Getting that eight, nine hours is just as important as weightlifting and studying the playbook,” he says. “I can know all the plays like the back of my hand. I can lift all the weights in the world, but if I only get five, six hours of sleep, I’m going to have doubt in my head. I’d absolutely say sleep is a weapon.”

Roger Federer (20x Grand Slam Tennis Champion)
Federer could be the most sleep obsessed athlete of them all. He’s been known to crave a minimum of 12 hours every night. “If I don’t sleep eleven to twelve hours a day, it’s not right,” he says. “If I don’t have that amount of sleep, I hurt myself.”  In 2015, Roger even rented a second house at Wimbledon, one for him, and one for his family and training team, all in an effort to maximize his sleep without distraction!

There is little doubt about the relationship between fatigue and performance. Athletes who are getting more sleep are increasingly talking about having higher effort and enthusiasm over training and competitive periods.

The most important first step in establishing a sleep routine is getting the right amount of sleep. Once a pattern of sleep length is established, athletes can work on additional habits that help optimize quality rest (ex. no screens one hour before bed).

To establish a baseline of what you should be targeting for sleep length, The National Sleep Foundation Recommends the following durations by age:

Age Recommended Nightly Sleep
School Aged Children (6 to 13) 9 to 11 Hours
Teenagers (14-17) 8 to 10 Hours
Young Adults (18-25) 7 to 9 Hours
Adults (26-64) 7 to 9 Hours

Sport and high intensity training put the body and mind under increased stress, so as an athlete you should target the higher end of the recommendation of sleep time for your age.

As with anything to do regarding health, you should always consult with your doctor before significantly altering a pattern like sleep.

Sweet dreams!



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