As the world’s athletes ready themselves for this summer’s Olympic Games, following a first postponement since World War II, Team GB rower Victoria Thornley has teamed up with The Sleep Charity to share a unique insight into the steps she takes to ensure a great night’s sleep as part of preparations for a major race.
Thornley, a silver medallist at Rio in 2016 and a member of the team that finished fifth in the Women’s Eight in London four years earlier, is an ambassador for The Sleep Charity, which works to help people improve sleep, and provides sleep training to the health, social and corporate sectors.
With the Opening Ceremony in Tokyo now just over three months away, Thornley’s energy is focused on achieving glory in what she concedes will likely be her final appearance on global athletics’ biggest stage.
She said: “We have had to significantly adapt our training, and the flow of our training, to accommodate the additional year.
“As athletes, our schedules work around the Olympics. We peak for the games every four years, so we have had to adapt to the fact that we are now going for a fifth year.
“Four years is a long time, and we’re understandably tired mentally and physically at the end of it, so asking your body to go for another year on top of that is something we’ve all had to be mindful of.
“But I’m just really looking forward to getting out racing again because it’s been a long time and a long period of training, but then obviously there is Tokyo in July and that will probably be my last Olympics.”
And as gym-goers and amateur athletes across the UK count down to gyms reopening and sports teams resuming training, Thornley took time out of her schedule to team up with The Sleep Charity and share her go-to tips for managing sleep as part of an active life.
She said: “The reopening of the gyms and sports clubs will be great for so many of us, but it represents a major change in routine at the same time.
“Sleep will be a major part of that adjustment and is a major pillar of wellbeing and general health.
“We don’t talk about it as much as we should when discussing health and wellness, especially for athletes.”
Team GB Rower Victoria Thornley’s elite athlete tips for getting a great night’s sleep:
- Experiment with your routine
“I try to keep to a routine as much as possible each night – and bodies do crave routine – but it’s important to experiment and find the routine that’s best for you. Try a hot bath and a cold bath, a cold shower and a hot shower, and see which one works best for you. Everybody is different and it’s important to find a regime that works for you.”
- Manage your body’s temperature
“Temperature is absolutely key, and certainly a key consideration for me. When I work out or train later in the evenings, then that naturally has an impact on body temperature, and it can take some time for that to return to normal levels. If I do have to train close to bedtime, then I will have a cold shower and ensure my room is cool in order to get my internal temperature to where it needs to be.”
- Apps not devices
“Most people already understand that it’s important to cut down on using devices in the bedroom when they’re getting ready to go to sleep – and I certainly subscribe to this belief – but I have had some good results from using some of the sleep and wellness apps, like Headspace, that are available. Sleep stories that you can listen to without looking at a screen have helped me to nod off.”
- Cut out refined sugars
“Nutrition and eating the right things is naturally a big part my day-to-day life and cutting out refined sugars forms a major part of that. This also has a significant impact and sleep and, because I don’t have refined sugars that often, I definitely feel the impact at night-time when I’ve indulged – although sometimes it’s no bad thing allowing yourself the odd treat!”
- Don’t let the stress get to you.
“The stress of elite sport can occupy your mind and, even though we have our own strategies for managing this pressure, it can be really helpful to switch off and spend some quality time with friends and family and relax your focus a little before heading off to bed. Similarly, I try not to stress about not getting to sleep. The more you worry about it, the harder you’ll find it to nod off.”
Deputy CEO of The Sleep Charity, Lisa Artis, added: “Sleep and exercise are vital columns of wellbeing for everybody, especially for professional athletes.
“Recovery occurs when we sleep so it is really important that everyone, from Team GB to recreational footballers, are getting the sleep and the downtime that they need when taking part in intensive sports.
“Routine is the most important thing when looking at how sleep affects performance, and everyone will have a different routine.
“What works for one person may not work for another, it’s all about finding what works for you and your training schedule.”
Performance consultant Sarah Gilchrist discusses the role of sleep as a performance enhancer – https://thesleepcharity.org.uk/sleep-the-ultimate-performance-enhancer/