To celebrate the release of the new M-Line range which is recommended by athletes and physiotherapists, we interviewed top athletes Victoria Pendleton and Joe Root about the importance of sleep and their night-time routine. See the Youtube video below to see what former track cyclist and jockey Victoria Pendleton had to say about her sleep schedule.
[Question] Can you tell us about your sleep routine in regards to your achieved hours of sleep and your target hours of sleep?[Victoria] For me, sleep routine is really important. I’m someone who enjoys getting a good night’s sleep and it comes very high on my list of priorities. I try to sleep at least 8 hours a night, but as an athlete, it used to be as much as 11 sometimes and with the training and how exhausting it was, I sometimes needed that in order to recover and get ready for the next day. So, less than I used to sleep, but still very important to get those hours in.
[Question] What is your preferred sleeping position and does it change if say, you’ve got leg pain or back pain?[Victoria] Well when I was an athlete I used to struggle to get comfortable lying in bed, mainly because of the weight training. So your body was always very sore, you tended to feel a lot of stiffness in the muscles. So for me, I always slept on my side and then changed from side to side in the night and actually found it really hard to lie on my back straight. Fortunately, now that I’ve retired, it’s a little bit easier to move and sleep and now I can sleep in any position at all. So I tend to not be fixed in one particular position. But when your muscles are sore, it is hard sometimes to get comfortable.
[Question] Do you have any unusual bedtime rituals, so any certain songs that you listen to, or snack that you eat before you go to bed?[Victoria] I don’t have rituals in terms of music I listen to or maybe a snack before bed. I remember my mum always saying that if you can’t sleep you should have a glass of milk, but I don’t really do that anymore. For me I think it’s important to have a very calm and relaxed space, so I really love having bathroom fragrances or candles. Sometimes not even if you’re burning them, but just the fragrance I think. Lavender and things like that are very relaxing for your mind and body. So it’s more probably about fragrance than it is about anything else.
[Question] Is there anything that stops you from going to sleep when you know you should? So do you stay up late watching tv, or reading, or anything like that?[Victoria] I am really disciplined when it comes to going to bed. It would have to be a really, really good tv programme, or a very exciting book to keep me awake. For me, I like to get up early and if I need to go training or go to the yard for the horses, I need to get up early. So for me it’s important to get to bed early and get the sleep and recovery. So I actually look forward to going to bed, I never avoid going because the more sleep I get, the better I feel in the morning and the more ready to go. So yeah, I’ve got a lot of discipline when it comes to bedtime.
[Question] And how has your sleep changed as you’ve developed as an athlete?[Victoria] When I was younger, I always slept quite well and actually I’ve always enjoyed getting a really good night’s sleep and just feeling ready for the day ahead. I’m quite a morning person, so for me feeling prepared when the alarm goes off, is something that I want to feel good, I don’t want it to be a struggle or difficult. So, as I trained as an athlete I tended to need more and more sleep in order to repair and recover your body from the training the day before, it was really important and recovery I think is underestimated in many ways. People put themselves through so much, but then don’t give themselves time to catch up and recover and their bodies to rebuild in order to move forward and adapt to training. So it was always a priority for me, so the hours I spent trying to get quality sleep got greater and greater and sometimes up to 11 hours a night. Which seems quite crazy for a lot of people. I think my record of solid sleep is 14 hours and that was through a very heavy training phase. But you have to listen to your body and if you need that then you have to make sure that you make time and prioritise it.
[Question] So if you were to rate sleep with all of your other performance affecting activities, what position does it sit in?[Victoria] I think, for me if I was to rank the importance of sleep amongst other training factors, obviously the physical training is the most important and then it would be joint second with nutrition. In terms of eating the right things and keeping your body adequately nourished and then having enough sleep to allow your body to rebuild and use those amino acids and the vitamins and minerals and antioxidants to counteract all the training and the effort you put in to what you do and how you damage your system. It’s definitely joint second, it’s definitely one of the most important things to consider.
[Question] And how has the shift from cycling to horse riding changed your sleep quality or your sleep pattern?[Victoria] The change from cycling to horse riding has meant that my sleep pattern has moved forward a few hours. I have to get up much earlier than I did as a cyclist, because the training in the yard starts very early in the morning. So I still really value getting a good solid eight hours sleep in, but yeah I just go to bed a little bit earlier these days.
[Question] Have you suffered any injuries that have affected your sleep requirements, so do you need a specialist mattress or a pillow to rectify that?[Victoria] I have in the past, I mean as a cyclist sometimes if you crash or if you have a bad injury obviously your sleep is definitely affected and it’s something that is taken very seriously in terms of if the physio asks you is it affecting your sleep and you know that it is, then it’s something that really needs addressing. So in the past I have used special mattresses and pillows to help alleviate pain or discomfort to ensure that you get a good night’s sleep and I think that’s a very important thing to do.
[Question] Has discomfort during sleep or lack of sleep ever affected your performance in training or in any competitions?[Victoria] I think that when you feel that you haven’t had a good night’s sleep, it definitely has an effect going into a competition or into training. Long term especially, if there’s been a long period of time where you haven’t managed to get the quality of sleep that you’re looking for, or a change in time zone has upset your pattern, it does definitely feel a bit harder to deal with the stresses and strains of training on a daily basis and it’s something that you have to address as soon as possible in order to rectify. It’s not something that you can just ignore and it will go away, it’s something that you have to invest time and effort into because it’s such a fundamental part of getting the best out of your body.
[Question] Do you have any examples of when having a bad night’s sleep has affected your competitions?[Victoria] Oh I have had many sleepless nights before a competition but not normally down to my comfort, usually down to my nerves. But I think when you’re nervous it is harder to sleep, so you kind of have to make use of the weeks running into competition and know that it’s going to be a little bit unsettled the night before, but that’s only because you want to do so well and it means a lot to you.
[Question] How did your bedtime routine change during major sporting events? Did you have to change your diet before or the times you go to bed?[Victoria] It was something you had to adjust coming from a training environment into a competition environment in terms of the different patterns of your sleep. When you’re training hard, you feel quite tired by the end of the day because you may be training for 6 hours, doing double sessions, or triple sessions of training, you’re in the gym, you’re on the track, you’re going to see the physio, so your body feels like it needs that sleep and it’s very easy to get into a routine and get a regular consistent pattern. However, sometimes when you travel to a different time zone and you’ve only got a few days to adjust before competition, that can make it quite hard. And also when you’re at a major competition, you cut your training back in order to recover and taper and be ready and therefore you’re not feeling as tired as you normally feel. So it can be quite challenging sometimes to adjust to a different training phase. So pre-competition, especially if you’re in a hotel room, and it’s not what you’re used to, it definitely can have a negative impact on your sleep quality and the amount of hours you’re trying to achieve. You just have to make best of what you can do and know that when you get home things will be back to normal.
[Question] Does your sleep get better or worse during these periods and is that down to stress and anxiety?[Victoria] Sleep definitely gets worse during competition periods and I think it is normally down to anxiety. You’ve got less training, so your body is feeling less tired. Then you have the expectation of what you would like to achieve from the competition and you know exactly what time of day and which day it’s coming on and you have to focus on that, but it’s difficult sometimes to switch off. So they are definitely challenging times pre-competition, but I think that’s only normal and it doesn’t get any easier through your career.
[Question] Does any part of your diet have any impact on your sleep or the quality of your sleep and have you ever altered your diet to improve this?[Victoria] I think it’s really important to have your last meal a good few hours before you tend to go to bed. I think sometimes when you’ve had to eat late for whatever reason, I think that can sometimes impact the quality of your sleep or how quickly you fall asleep and it’s not a nice feeling either, when you go to bed and you’re still feeling kind of full. So for me I make sure that I wouldn’t eat anything after 8 o clock, just so there’s enough time before going to bed to relax and settle. I think if you eat too much too late, your system’s kind of working and you’re not sort of calming down for the night.
[Question] What’s your go-to breakfast to ensure you get a great performance for the day?[Victoria] Ooh, my go-to breakfast, well I am a creature of habit, so the first thing I do after I take the dogs out is get my breakfast in the morning and I make homemade muesli. So I tend to assimilate muesli with all the things that I really really love and I just have a small amount of it on two pieces of fruit in the morning with almond milk and a coffee. So that is my routine, I like the nuts and seeds for energy and then fruit because I just love it and almond milk just tastes fantastic. So that’s my go-to breakfast and I always feel good if I start the day with a breakfast I like and enjoy.
[Question] So if you had no sporting restrictions on what you could eat, what do you think would be your ultimate midnight snack?[Victoria] Ooh, my ultimate midnight snack! Let me think what would it be? It would definitely involve chocolate. Some kind of chocolate cake probably, that would be my ultimate midnight snack.
What did you think of this interview? Let us know in the comments! Click here to find your local Dreams store and buy your M Line mattress from Dreams today, the UK’s only M Line retailer.