With the 2022 Winter Olympics underway in Beijing, looking at the training regimens and health conditions of these top athletes is both interesting and insightful. Not only are the strict exercise and diet plans vital for these Olympians to perform their best, sleep also contributes greatly to the athletes physical and mental well-being.
Seeking peak physical performance, Olympic athletes have built a strong arsenal of resources – from professional coaches, specialized training routines, to physical therapists. However, physical health is not the only concern of these athletes, as competitive pressure and repeating physical exertion contribute to mental and psychological strain. Mental health and wellbeing play a huge role in every athlete’s success.
Mental Health and Wellbeing in Elite Sports
The mental health and wellbeing of these athletes hit the spotlight in last year’s summer Olympics in Tokyo, particularly with tennis player Naomi Osaka and gymnast Simone Biles. These athletes cited mental health as the reason for withdrawing from their respective competitions.
The Unique Challenges Faced by Olympians
These elite athletes attending the Olympics are faced with a unique challenge – not only do the majority of them train rigorously their entire lives for this moment in the spotlight, but many of them are separated from the comfort of their support systems. Additionally, the Olympic games these past two years have been impacted by constant testing and isolation due to the COVID-19 climate. This all results in added stress for the athletes, on top of the intense competitive focus already in place.
For this year’s Olympics, the mental health of athletes has become a priority for Team USA. This includes access to therapists and psychiatrists via individual or group sessions, counselors via wellness apps, and mental health screenings. These screenings cover “anxiety, depression, eating disorders, sleep, alcohol and drug use” (1). In addition to continuing testing and treatments, athletes are encouraged to have ongoing dialogues and communication with their staff and team, to keep an eye out for any new or evolving conditions. Psychiatrist Dr. Leela Magavi said regarding the mental condition of athletes, “when they’re anxious and internalizing those feelings, they don’t sleep as well, they don’t eat as well, they don’t play as well,” (1).
Olympic Sleeping Arrangements: A Real Gamechanger
In aid of the Olympian’s wellbeing, the sleeping quarters and environment for athletes has been greatly improved this year. At the Summer games in Tokyo last year, the small and stiff beds were crafted out of simplistic cardboard frames, a decision by officials to be more sustainable by recycling them (2). Upon arriving to the Winter Olympics, Summer Britcher, luge athlete for the USA, excitedly showed fans in a TikTok video that the beds provided by the Beijing planning committee are a huge step up. These are adjustable beds that can be set via a remote control, with individually articulating head and foot positioning. They also feature a relaxing “Zero G” mode to reduce stress on the body – maximizing circulation while reducing lower back pressure (3). “Sleep rest cabins” have been set up throughout the main media center of the Olympics village, allowing journalists to try out the same sophisticated beds of the athletes (4). These pods are accessed via a QR code and have been utilized by the media as a quiet place to focus on work, or to nap and rest between events.
The achievements of the Olympic athletes should be applauded, given their attempts and ability to perform at such a high performance level while on the go. Both mental and physical health can be easily affected by changes in sleep, and Olympians are required to sleep in foreign environments. Travel and jetlag are huge factors to sleep that must be taken into account in their training regimens and schedules. Both the Summer 2021 Tokyo Olympics and this year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing have been greatly affected by the coronavirus, leading to strict quarantining and isolating environments for the athletes and other attendees.
A good night’s sleep is important for everyone’s health, regardless of whether or not we are professional athletes trying to achieve peak performance. Somnology offers a comprehensive perspective to sleep monitoring and care, with the SLaaS® (Sleep Lab as a Service) platform, SomnoRing® device, and Somnology App. We have streamlined a typical sleep diagnosis experience by delivering the technology and medical insight of a sleep lab directly to users. To learn more about SLaaS® and the effects of sleep, continue reading our blog.