"We know that sleep loss is going to create significant detriments in performance," says Mark Rosekind, PhD, president of Alertness Solutions and a former NASA scientist. "There are lab studies that show that if you're an eight-hour sleeper and you get six hours of sleep, that two-hour difference can impact your performance so that it equates to how you would perform if you had a 0.05 blood-alcohol level."
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 speed skating and downhill ski courses called the Super G, counting sheep is just as important -- even if there isn't a medal at the end of the rainbow.
Optimum Sleep Environment
With the Winter Olympics in Torino just around the corner, U.S. athletes are focused on one thing: gold. To give them an extra edge, officials at the Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs, Colo., brought Rosekind in to evaluate the athletes' sleeping conditions. From lighting to beds to alarm clocks, Rosekind made changes that, while seemingly simple, can only have a positive impact on performance.
"First, we looked at environmental factors for the room, for example, light, temperature, and noise," says Rosekind, who is a board member for the National Sleep Foundation.
Light involves the use of blackout curtains, Rosekind explains, to keep the room sufficiently dark but not so dark that when you wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom you stub your toe on a chair. For a figure skater, that's not good.
"Temperature-wise, cool is better than warm," says Rosekind. "You need to have some kind of accurate control, like a thermostat, or have things like extra blankets so you can control the temperature during the night."
Noise Control and Comfortable Beds
Noise is another factor that can have an impact on sleep.
"With noise, what most people need to know is that it's the intrusive noise events, like doors banging, that are the most disruptive for peoples' sleep," Rosekind tells WebMD. This problem, however, is easily solved by masking the intrusive sounds with background noise, like a fan or sound machine.