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Sleeping Their Way to Gold
How a good night's sleep—and good sheets—gives Olympians a competitive advantage
By Marvin Weinrick, Scholastic Kids Press Corps

Apolo Anton Ohno
Apolo Anton Ohno skates during his heat in the men's 1500 meters in short track speed skating during the Winter Olympic Games on February 12, 2006.
(Photo: Mark Baker/AP Wide World)
Can a good night's sleep increase your speed and help you land that triple axle in the figure skating short program? Can down pillows and an extra thick mattress give you the strength to maintain your skating speed on the last lap of the 1,500 m short track?

Dr. Mark Rosekind says yes, that Olympic athletes can increase their performance by 30 percent with the right equipment—sleeping equipment that is.

Rosekind is a former NASA scientist and current president of Alertness Solutions. Together with Hilton Hotels, a sponsor of the U.S. Olympic team, Rosekind and his company decked out the Olympic Village in Torino, Italy, with the best in sleeping gear.

Special rooms are equipped with a plush-top mattress to reduce tossing and turning and increase circulation. They have also included down comforters, extra thick mattress pads, down pillows, and high thread-count sheets. Other sleeping accessories are easy-to-operate alarm clocks with jacks for MP3 or CD players, better lighting, comfortable chairs, and black-out drapes for better naps during the day.

Speed skater and Olympic gold medalist Apolo Anton Ohno was one of the first to test the new rooms, which are duplicates of the 160 newly modified units at the U.S. Olympic training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. As the athlete with the longest residency at the training center, Ohno says he has seen a huge difference in the dormitories since he began staying there in 1998.

"It sounds simple, but getting the proper rest really does increase my confidence and abilities on and off the track," Ohno said.

Sleep is an important part of a healthful lifestyle. Taking a 20-to 25-minute nap can boost an athlete's performance by as much as 34 percent and his or her alertness by up to 54 percent, Rosekind said.

"To compete at your best, rest and relaxation is a critical component," Rosekind told Scholastic News Online. "Sleep can make a difference between gold and silver."

Will other countries get to take advantage of Rosekind and Hilton's plush Olympic quarters? No way, says Rosekind. What's more, his research results are not for sale to other countries, he says, because he wants to give the U.S. a competitive edge.


Photos, left to right: © Rick Rickman/NewSport/NewSport/Corbis; © Joe Cavaretta/AP Wide World.