How to sleep like an Olympian and why it’s good to nap

The experts at Team GB share why sleep is their secret weapon, with four ways to be your own sleep specialist.

The final preparations are underway for the Paris Olympics this summer and Team GB’s coaches have been ensuring that our athletes are ready for the performance of their lives – through a programme of training, nutrition and, just as importantly, sleep.

The team’s top trainers say that a good night’s sleep is a vital part of our team’s preparation and have joined forces with bed manufacturer Dreams, which has created special sleep pods for our elite athletes to use during the Games.

Saga met up with the Team GB coaches to learn their sleep secrets, how we can become our own slumber experts and why it’s good to nap.

Olympic sleep experts - Two of Team GB's coaches and two Olympic athletes in front of a blue banner saying Team GB and DreamsCredit: Team GB/Dreams
Dr Luke Gupta, Joe Choong gold medalist, silver medalist Emily Campbell and Greg Retter

Why sleep is so important

A good night’s sleep is vital for our brain and body

Sleep has never had so much attention, yet it feels harder than ever to get a good night’s kip – in fact one in five of us in the UK is suffering from sleeplessness. A lack of sleep is linked to a whole series of medical conditions and costs the UK economy £34 billion a year.

To tackle the problem a multi-million pound industry has sprung up, with sleep apps, books, courses and homeware, all promising a cure for insomnia. But a good night’s sleep is still proving elusive to many of us.

Yet the answer, according to Team GB, may be more simple than we think.


Team GB and sleep

Why sleep is Team GB’s secret weapon

The experts at Team GB have been studying sleep as part of their preparations for this year’s Olympic games in Paris. They say that sleep is as important to our elite squad as training and diet.

“Sleep is one of the three pillars, together with training and nutrition, for our team members,” Greg Retter, Team GB’s head of performance, told Saga. But he added that the key to a good night’s sleep is more simple than most of us could imagine.

“We work with the athletes, monitoring their sleep quality, the duration, how much REM sleep they have, their resting heart rate and all the other metrics around them,” he explained.

“But ultimately we say to them, when you wake up in the morning, do you feel refreshed, do you feel like you’ve had a good night’s sleep?”

1. Be your own sleep expert

Why sleep is different for all of us

Both Retter and Dr Luke Gupta, the team’s sleep expert from the UK Sports Institute, say their most vital message is to be your own sleep expert.

“Everyone has been sleeping since the day they were born,” said Dr Gupta. “But now there are performance labels being strapped on it and people are comparing the way they sleep to what the ideal is. I’m a scientist and I’ve been guilty of it in the past.

“But everyone’s needs are different and its not like we always have a choice. If you are the parent of a young child or a carer for an elderly relative you may have to wake up every single night to give care and then to say you must have eight hours of unbroken sleep just doesn’t apply.

“Redefine what sleep means to you, ignore those ideals and understand what works best for you.”

2. A daytime nap is good for you

Olympic athletes love to nap

Research has shown that a daytime nap is good for our brain health and a 2022 study found a snooze of up to an hour was beneficial for athletes. Team GB experts agree.

“Napping is really good for you, absolutely,” says Retter.

The team has taken delivery of eight sleep pods, from its sleep partner Dreams, which will be in the team’s performance lodge at the Olympics, so athletes and staff will be able to stretch out, nap and take time out during the day.


Retter said: “During the Olympics it’s not just our athletes but our staff who are under pressure. So we say to them to schedule breaks so they can get away and nap and if they can’t sleep just have a psychological reset.”

It’s important not to worry if you can’t fall asleep.

“Not everyone can nap,” adds Dr Gupta. He says the key is just to take time away to rest and recuperate.

3. No night’s sleep is the same

Sleep is constantly changing

The advice is that our sleep doesn’t just change as we get older, but even day-to-day.

“Don’t beat yourself up about maybe not having the best sleep that night,” says Retter. “When you sleep the next night you’re back at reset again.

“I think that your your sleep habits will change with age. Absolutely, inevitably, but also they change throughout the week.”

“One of the things that I’ve really learned from working with athletes and working with the sleep experts is that my sleep is individual to me, and not to get too stressed about not having enough.

“Try and catch as much sleep as you can when you can, and then try and manage your your energy levels. And it’s not always easy when you get older, to be able to do everything that you need to at the same time.”

A guaranteed way to sleep

Dr Gupta said: “This is something I’ve talked to athletes about, saying okay, I can make you fall asleep instantly, guaranteed. I tell them that I want them to stay up all night tonight. And then the next night I guarantee they’ll fall asleep instantly.

“The point is that if you’ve slept badly one night, the next night you’re more likely to have a better night’s sleep. Take the reins off. Relax on how you approach it.”

Would a sleep structure help you?

Dr Gupta said: “Sleep will keep changing throughout your life, so as you get older and go into a retirement lifestyle, you no longer have to get up at a certain time.

“So is that a good or a bad thing for you? Can you put a bit more structure in place to give you a more regular patterning of sleep? Or do you want to free run and just let your sleep do it?”

4. Trust your sleep – it’s part of us

Allow sleep to do its thing

If you are struggling to sleep Dr Gupta has this advice.

“The big one is trust. We need to trust our sleep. The whole process of falling asleep is completely passive, even the language is to fall asleep. If sports got hold of it we would jump into sleep or something similar, but we don’t, we fall asleep. It’s passive, make a decision and allow it to happen – although sometimes its easier said than done.

“It’s human nature that we want to control our sleep,  we want it to happen when we want it to, as opposed to taking time to work with it and understand it.

“Sleep is part of us and is programmed in us, wired to happen on its own accord and getting in the way of it is what makes it fall down.

“The key is to trust your sleep to do its thing for you.”

Insomnia – when to see your GP

The NHS says to speak to your doctor about sleeplessness if changing your sleeping habits has not worked, you have had trouble sleeping for months or your insomnia is affecting your daily life in a way that makes it hard for you to cope.

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her


Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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