Any Olympic athlete will tell you how important exercise and sticking to a healthy diet is, but some experts (and even some athletes) say sleep is just as important for overall performance.
According to a recent study by Mitacs, an organization whose aim is to build research-based partnerships in Canada, 77 per cent of participating athletes were satisfied with the quality of their sleep after making simple changes to their routine.
Study author and physiologist Amy Bender created a very specific sleeping plan for each member of Team Canada's women's eight rowing team. From small changes like going device-free before you go to bed and fitting in naps, Bender says most athletes had typical sleeping routines before the study.
“What we found was that not only were the athletes not getting enough sleep at night, but they also weren’t napping, which is very important for athletes,” Bender says in a statement. “As well, 90 per cent of the team members were using technology before bed, which has been proven to affect the quality of sleep.”
One of the Canadian rowers was 27-year-old, London, Ont. native, Natalie Mastracci, who is currently competing in the Rio Olympics with the rest of the team.
Canada's women's eight rowing team members Lauren Wilkinson and Natalie Mastracci celebrate their silver medal finish at Eton Dorney during the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Mastracci tells The Huffington Post Canada that before the study, she usually slept for five to seven hours, even though she knew she should've been aiming for nine. After sticking to Bender's plan (which you too can follow in the slideshow below), she noticed changes right away.
Set yourself a tech curfew: Going device-free before bed is one thing, but to make yourself stick to a habit every night, set yourself a tech curfew, Canadian Olympic rower Natalie Mastracci says. Pick a time and put your phone away until the next morning — the less screen time before bed, the better.
Start tracking how many hours of sleep you get every night: Not all of us should be sleeping like Olympic athletes (some of them require nine hours per night, Mastracci says), but we should all be aware of how much sleep our individual bodies need. Start with seven hours and see how you feel after a week. Your body should indicate if you need to add an extra hour or keep it at seven.
Have the right tools: Mastracci says the rowing team has tried everything from blue-light blocking glasses to blue lights that wake you up in their sleeping routines. Even if it is as simple as buying an eye mask to block out the light or darker curtains, you can easily find quick fixes to get a better night's rest.
Get into bed earlier: Even if you're not sleeping right away, get into the habit of just getting ready for bed earlier. This way, when you're ready for snooze time, you'll already be settled in bed. To kick things off, start with 30 minutes and work towards an hour.
Pick up a book or another activity: Now that you're in bed earlier, find ways to make use of your time without being on the phone. Read a book, meditate or just lay down and listen to some music.
Squeeze in a nap (if you can): If your place of work offers napping spaces, try to get a 20-minute nap during the day. If not, see if you can squeeze in some sleep during your (non-driving) commute.
Make sleep a priority: At the end of the day, the only way to get a better sleep is by making it a priority for yourself. We may not be training like Olympic athletes, but sleep is important for every type of body.
"It was such an incredible and significant change of my overall attitude," she says. "I didn't want to believe just sleeping more would help everything, but it really did. I was in a better mood at the beginning of practice... and I can get one per cent more out of [that] practice," she says.
Mastracci says even making a small change like getting into bed earlier can make a significant change.
"You can do these things anywhere, even if you are mobile," she says.
Karina LeBlanc, a retired soccer goalkeeper who represented Canada in two Olympic Games and who is now in Rio for Yahoo! Canada Sports, says she would aim to get at least eight hours of sleep preparing for the Games.
"Sleep is just as important as your nutrition, just as important as your training, so if you cut corners on your sleep you might as well cut corners in the gym or on the field," she tells The Huffington Post Canada. "I still try to get that eight hours because that’s what my body knows."
Canada's goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc makes a save during a practice session in Edmonton, Alta., on Friday June 5, 2015.
When prepping for the Olympics, LeBlanc says she was told to go device-free before bed and these days she tries not to watch television before resting.
"I still think that gets your brain going, even though I might be watching a show that requires no thought like 'The Bachelorette,'" she says.
These days LeBlanc as well as Mastracci aim to stick to their sleeping schedules, even when they're not training.
"I'm not going to lie, there are some days where there’s so much to do, but I'm just mindful about how important it is to find that balance," LeBlanc says. "I may not have perfected that balance, but I know what I'm aiming to accomplish."
With files from Chloe Tejada