Train hard, that is what all top athletes are able to do. But rest well? That does not always work equally well. Olympic swimming champion Ranomi Kromowidjojo and Olympic hockey girls and boys on ‘sleep’ lessons, rituals and peaks during the Olympics. Ranomi: “From even more swimming or more training kilometers, I don’t get faster.  From 9 to 11 hours sleep a day I really improve.”

Although sleep is not an Olympic sport, good rest is vital on the way to eternal sport fame. Athletes, coaches and scientists are increasingly convinced of the fact that good rest can make the difference between silver and gold, between winning and losing. For training endlessly to master that one peculiar technique and booking one percent profit  on your competitors is one thing. But who “forgets” to recover well from strenuous activity, does something wrong and destroys a big part of that training zeal.

Therefore, it makes sense that the national hockey teams were bombarded with “rest colleges and sleeping tips during the run-up to the Olympics. Scientific research among athletes and non-athletes reveals that well-rested people perform better. Moreover, good sleepers have fewer injuries and are mentally stronger. And well-rested people  can focus better on their daily work.


“Sleep and rest have been given increasing priority over the years,” Ranomi Kromowidjojo says. The Olympic swimming champion now swears by an afternoon nap, which is crucial to recover well between two training sessions per day.

Ranomi Kromowidjojo


That will still be a  challenge in olympic Rio , because in an unfamiliar environment there are more distractions than at home. Ranomi Kromowidjojo took her own measures to feel right at home. So she took her own mattress, with extra shoulder area, special for my broad shoulders along to the Olympic village. And she thought about practical matters towards new top performances: “When traveling, I often find it’s not dark enough in the sleeping room; that’s why I always bring garbage bags to blind the windows.”


The increased focus on rest fits the official Olympic slogan “faster, higher, stronger.” Making the most of yourself and try to improve yourself constantly, that is the key in sport. “And that goes pretty far,” said Ranomi who has more eye (perform the movement to perfection) for quality rather than quantity (swimming kilometer as many as possible) in her training. “In the Netherlands we walk for instance ahead with our attention to technique, such as underwater cameras filming everything and then analyzing the images, image for image.  Thus, it is measurable when you will get faster.  So it turns out very scientific…” And that approach pays off: “That’s way I have become the fastest starter in the race.”


Also hockey-girls Ellen Hoog and Margot van Geffen won Olympic gold four years ago in London and now know the importance of going on time ‘horizontal’. Ellen Hoog: “I train more fanatically than ever and I’m also going to dedicate more time to rest, because rest is training too. Besides eight or nine hours of night sleep, I sleep also during the day.”

Margot van Geffen: “The more you train, the more rest you need.   Extra attention to rest works for me, I am now fitter than ever…”

Also in Dutch men’s hockey team, images of training and competition are studied minutely among others by penalty corner specialist Mink van der Weerden. Mink: “We often see back images of the matches, especially penalty corners who we play many times in slow motion, and then we pay particular attention to the technical side, while always asking the question. What could we do better?”


Billy Baker


The question ‘what can be better? “also applies to the periods outside training. With sleep analysis and rest tips anybody – athlete or non-athlete – takes advantage. In the run up to the Olympic Games hockey men were resting- and sleeping lessons for instance by team doctor Wart Van Soest.

In addition, they learned, among other things what they can do best (like close the Smartphone) and leave, in the last hour before you go to sleep at night. That pays off, noted hockey-player Billy Bakker: “Sleeping is very important for me, especially because of the intensity of our training I need at least nine hours of sleep, otherwise I feel not recuperated the next day..”


A good night’s sleep can make the difference between silver and gold. That is always and everywhere. Hockey internationals are anyway very open to suggestions in order to perfect the work-rest ratio. That turned out for example during a presentation with sleep expert Arne Nieuwenhuis, who shared his knowledge about the physical and mental profit of good rest.

Besides sleeping hints (as reducing the activities in the evening, because with a high body temperature, for example, after a late game with a meal afterward, you fall asleep more difficultly) he also gave background information on sleep and rest.

After the presentation of the sleep expert the hockey men selected a perfect mattress that fits perfectly their personal preferences and physique. Attention is given to every detail. All dedicated to one goal: optimal rest and getting up energized for the next top performance – the Olympics.

Fully recuperated athletes perform better

Daytime rest and going to bed early in the evening is not obvious when the adrenaline is pumping through your body, or if you think you can handle the whole world. Therefore Olympic athletes also get sleeping tips in which developing rituals occupies a prominent place.

American research shows that “intensive rest ‘pays off. So a group of college basketball players was instructed to extend their normal sleep of 6.5 hours to 8.5 hours for 5 to 7 weeks. The results were spectacular: not only the basketball players felt  much better and they also functioned better in the team, their shot percentage  increased  (both free throws and three-pointers). Other research also revealed the opposite: athletes who slept less than six hours a night were more often injured and performed less well.

The hockey players get during the day, between two training sessions, two hours of obligatory afternoon rest. Not everyone can sleep. Mink van der Weerden got his rest by picking up a book. “So your body will also have rest.”

How much sleep a person needs has been determined individually. In general it appears that people of 20 years are best off around 8.5 hours of sleep per day,  at 60 around 6.5 hours seems to be enough. It is known that athletes have on an average more difficulty to fall asleep than non-athletes. Possible causes include stress of the matches, “FOMO (fear of missing something;, because athletes are super fit and think that they can handle the whole world) and sometimes the early training times. Also many trips to competitions and sleeping in a different environment could pose a problem.   A swimmer who starts his training at 6 o’clock in the morning, should be very early to go to bed   to get the optimal amount of sleep.


The growing focus on optimal rest goes beyond sleep at night. The benefits of an afternoon nap (powernap) have been praised in many places. It makes you feel fresher and more alert, and the famous lunch dip does not occur. For athletes there is an extra reason to go horizontal at noon: it helps to recover between two heavy workouts. Yet it sometimes feels unnatural  for top fit people in the power of their lives should sleep during the day . It also took  some time to convince Ranomi Kromowidjojo initially, but now she does not know better: “Depending on the intensity of the workouts I sleep at noon half an hour to two hours.” she said.


Even more important is the development of individual sleep rituals: in the last hour before you go to sleep no  more ‘screen activities’ , prepare yourself quietly on the night, read a book for relaxation and preferably always sleep on the same mattress and pillow. Go to bed and get up in the morning always at the same time if possible Don’t drink too much liquid before sleeping. And so on……


The Somnox

Tried everything and still trouble falling asleep? Then Somnox is probably worth trying. This soft robot breathes at a leisurely pace. Sleeping close to it is relaxing. Somnox was created by students of the Technical University of Delft, the Netherlands. Can also play lullabies and registers which sleep phase you go through and wake you up in the morning with subtle light and sound. This high tech sleeping pillow, which only exists as a prototype, won a design prize: the Dutch edition of the Dyson Award.