Mikaela Shiffrin won gold in the giant slalom on Thursday, and she was perfectly open with reporters afterward about how she killed time between runs: She took a nap.
“I do it on every race,’’ she said according to USA Today. “There’s always a little bit of time between the first and the second run, and I think I had an hour today where I could sort of lie down for an hour on a bench in a corner of the lodge….”
Shiffrin, 22, said she just put on headphones that blocked out everything but her music and fell into a light sleep. “Sometimes I really fall asleep and when I wake up it feels like a new day and I have to, like, figure out where I am,’’ she said. “Sometimes it’s just more like I’m just trying not to think. Today I didn’t really fall asleep, but it was somewhere in between.”
The skier called her nap break “nice,” adding, “For me, that’s one of my favorite times during a race day is when I can like lie down and take a deep breath and get ready for the next run.’’ Shiffrin’s sleep habits have gotten a lot of attention, including a New York Times article on Friday that mentioned the skier is “renowned for needing at least nine hours of sleep a day.” The reality is, Shiffrin’s sleep habits are extremely healthy, but that didn’t stop fans from obsessing over them on Twitter.
Level of calm I aspire to achieve: Mikaela Shiffrin being able to take a nap in between slalom runs competing for a gold medal…
— Catie Matheny (@CatieMat831) February 16, 2018
Mikaela Shiffrin is a prolific napper? Me too!! I’d join her Olympic nap team. #PyongChang2018
— Emily McT (@EmMcT) February 16, 2018
What’s the key to Mikaela Shiffrin success? “I take a nap between runs.” Between runs. At the olympics.
— Shawn Hunter (@gshunter) February 16, 2018
It seems impossible to actually take a nap when you’re keyed up in the middle of a serious competition, but Shiffrin is onto something, board-certified sleep medicine doctor and neurologist W. Christopher Winter, MD, of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine and author of the upcoming book The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep is Broken and How to Fix It, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s a brilliant idea,” he says.
For starters, sleep is performance-enhancing. “I’m not sure there’s anything she can do that’s better for her in competition than making sure she’s hydrated and getting something to eat,” Winter says. Not only can grabbing a few z’s during downtime help athletes recharge their batteries, but it can also help with focus, he says. Skiers only get so many practice runs on a course before they compete, and taking a quiet moment to think about what happened and visualize what is coming up before nodding off can actually help an athlete like Shiffrin clear her head and focus on what’s next, Winter says.
Napping is also a great way to just slow things down for a moment, Bert Mandelbaum, MD, orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles and author of The Win Within: Capturing Your Victorious Spirit, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “When you slow it all down, you can think more clearly, focus on what you need to do and what you don’t need to do,” he says.
While most people aren’t Olympic athletes, everyone can learn something from this, he says. “You don’t have to be an athlete to benefit from napping or some sort of period of meditation,” Winter says. Ultimately, resting and quieting the mind is the real benefit — not whether you actually fall asleep, he says. That’s why Winter recommends that people try to incorporate this into their daily lives, if time allows. Everyone’s schedule and demands are different, but if you get an hour break for lunch, you could spend 30 minutes grabbing food and eating it and the other 30 meditating or napping, if you have the place for it. “You’ll really be a different person,” Winter says. “Being well-rested and mentally at your best can make a huge difference.”
As for Shiffrin’s fourth-place finish in the women’s slalom on Friday, that is being (partially) blamed on a lack of sleep. Shiffrin noted that part of the reason she was out of sorts on Friday was because she had gone to bed two hours later than normal on Thursday night. Of course, that was because she was at the ceremony for the nap-assisted gold medal she’d won earlier in the day.
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