The Surprising Sleeping Habits of Pro Athletes

October 15, 2014 All posts Jared Sebastian

Sleep is the most undervalued component of physical and mental health. It’s responsible for a cavalcade of hormonal benefits that improve performance in practically every way, but it’s not like this is a secret—great thinkers and businessmen alike know to prioritize a good night’s sleep, from billionaires to the Dalai Lama.

But the modern gym goer may be more interested in the sleeping habits of elite athletes, from Olympians to Grid competitors—and the best of the best certainly know their sleep science. 

Lebron James

He’s won two NBA championships, four NBA Most Valuable Player Awards, two Olympic gold medals, and has been ranked the best player in the NBA by ESPN and Sports Illustrated for three years running.

He also sleeps 11 to 12 hours per night.

Nope, the man certainly isn’t lazy—many of us know that it’s actually a lot of work to fit a long night’s sleep into a jam-packed schedule, but there’s every reason to do so.

A Stanford University study [1] published in the journal Sleep showed that varsity basketball players who aimed for 10 hours of nightly sleep for at least five weeks could sprint faster, react better, and sink 9 percent more free throws and three-pointers. The results, which looked at 11 players, were uniform: Every single one of the players who got more sleep experienced benefits. 

Sir Chris Hoy

The most decorated Olympic cyclist of all time makes sleep such a priority that he has a sleeping coach. A published scientist, Nick Littlehales, designed for him a lightweight, fold-up mattress, which Hoy had delivered to each hotel he stayed at during the Tour de France—even taking it into five star hotels. Training upwards of 35 hours per week, he has emphasized that he requires eight hours of sleep every night to be “fully fresh.”

Littlehales knows sleep, and notes that a person shouldn’t wake up in the morning and feel like they could snooze for two more hours.

“To get (sleep) right, you have to get things like temperature, light, noise, and air quality correct. You have to know your allergies. Then, of course, you have to sleep on something that suits your height, shape, and weight.”

We couldn’t agree more; a mattress should not be cookie-cutter. Like your favorite pair of jeans, it needs to be specially suited to your body’s individual sleeping position and pressure points.

Michael Phelps

It’s a curious but proven fact that living (and training) at high altitudes can have a beneficial effect on athletic performance, with some studies linking it to an increase in red blood cells and maximum energy output.

It should perhaps come as no huge surprise, then, that Michael Phelps has experimented with high altitude training—or rather, sleeping. The “Baltimore Bullet” raised some eyebrows when he revealed that his training for the 2012 Olympics involved over a year of spending his nights in a specially designed “high altitude chamber.” Developed by a company called Hypoxico, the chamber creates a low-oxygen environment, mimicking that of a 9000-foot mountaintop.

Four golds and two silver medals later, something seems to be working, but we don’t all need altitude chambers. Phelps has said that he simply prioritizes sleep as a crucial part of his recovery, and the science backs him up: Sleep extension has been shown to improve a swimmer’s reaction time off the starting block by 17 percent, while sleep restriction means an 11 percent reduction in time to exhaustion.

“To get (sleep) right, you have to get things like temperature, light, noise, and air quality correct. You have to know your allergies. Then, of course, you have to sleep on something that suits your height, shape, and weight.”


Rich Froning

For the world’s fittest man and four-time winner of the CrossFit games, sleep is of critical importance.

Froning once said“I rely on sleep more than I do my nutrition,” and aims for ten hours of shuteye every night. For someone who trains three to five times per day, his body needs to strengthen and repair its world-renowned muscles as well as humanly possible

This is why Froning sleeps on a Reverie Sleep System, noting that he particularly enjoys the massage feature, which he likes using to soothe his leg muscles after a day of training.

It seems that every good athlete agrees that sleep and strength go hand in hand. In fact, adequate sleep has been linked to higher hitting accuracy for tennis players, better sprinting times for football players, faster decision-making, and greater overall exertion.

So for anyone who’s looking to improve their game (whatever that may be), the first step should be toward a quality sleep system – a custom latex mattress and adjustable foundation.