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How Athletes Sleep | A Peek Into The Habits And Data

Even though sleep is one of the key areas that affect our overall wellbeing and fitness, it’s often overlooked, or neglected, even by athletes. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night but do athletes sleep more? And if they do, are they getting more and better sleep than the rest of us?

To help us answer this question, we asked two professional athletes from the BMC-Vifit Sport Pro Triathlon Team how they sleep and how they make sure they get enough sleep. We also dug into Polar Sleep Plus™ data to understand how athletes’ sleep compares to the sleep of Polar Sleep Plus users.

Photo credit: James Mitchell

athletes tend to love rhythm and routine – but does it apply to sleep?

Professional triathlete Chris Leiferman from the BMC-Vifit Team aims to maintain the same sleeping rhythm and get about nine hours of sleep every night. He goes to bed at the same time every night whether it’s a rest day, training day, or a race day.

“I follow the same bedtime routine and start getting ready for bed around 9 p.m. My wife and I turn off the TV and don’t look at our phones other than setting the alarm so that we have 30-45 minutes of no ‘blue’ light before we go to sleep. I then read a book to get my eyes tired, then I kiss my wife goodnight and I’m out cold in a couple of minutes.”

Regular sleeping rhythm doesn’t mean you have to obsess about it.

Regular sleeping rhythm doesn’t mean you have to obsessively stick to your routine without any exceptions ever – even athletes take it easy every now and then:

“On my days off, I just sleep in. I keep the blinds closed and don’t set an alarm. Usually I wake up early automatically because it’s what I’m used to, but at least I get to wake up on my own and not to the sound of the alarm,” Chris Leiferman says.

Like his team member, BMC-Vifit athlete Bart Aernouts also maintains the same sleeping rhythm with no significant difference between rest days and training days – but it’s not written in stone.

Most of the time I just focus on getting a good night’s sleep, no matter what kind of training is coming up the next day.

“Sometimes I go to bed a little later or earlier if I’m really tired. On rest days, I might stay in bed a bit longer. During intensive training weeks, I might try to sleep more if I need it and even take naps if I feel like I need to get some rest during the day. But most of the time I just focus on getting a good night’s sleep, no matter what kind of training is coming up the next day,” Bart says.


Getting enough sleep regularly every night, not just some nights, is key in avoiding sleep debt, which is a difficult debt to pay off and can lead to playing an exhausting chasing game with your sleep.

If you need catch-up sleep to settle your sleep debts, it’s a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep on a regular basis.

If you need catch-up sleep to settle your sleep debts, it’s a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep on a regular basis.

That is why Chris Leiferman aims to get the same nine hours of sleep every night. He is usually asleep around 9:30-9:45 p.m. and gets up around 6:30-7 a.m. During the handful of days leading up to a race, Chris tries to get a lot of sleep stored, knowing that the race day morning will be an early wake up.

Compared to Chris, Polar Sleep Plus™ users fall asleep considerably later, at 11:50 p.m. on average, but still wake up as early as Chris at 6:50 a.m. on working days and at 8:00 a.m. on weekends.

Although it’s important to get enough sleep, more isn’t always explicitly more when it comes to sleep. What matters equally as much as quantity is the quality of sleep: we need continuous, uninterrupted sleep to feel rested. But how do you know you’re sleeping not only enough, but also well enough?

Three signs that you’re getting enough quality sleep:

1. You feel rested in the morning and during the day. (Possible fatigue during the day can be caused by lack of sleep, but also excessive sleep.)

2. You wake up spontaneously without an alarm (provided you’re not suffering from insomnia or other sleep disorders).

3. You sleep the same amount on most nights without the need for catch-up sleep.

In addition to these three signs, tracking your sleep will give you even more accurate data and insight into your sleep.

WHAT IF WE LET DATA DO THE TALKING – A PRO athlete’s sleep compared to polar sleep plus™ users

To get a data-based glimpse of how athletes sleep, we asked Bart Aernouts to track his sleep with a Polar A370 for eight nights during a training camp and share his data and insight with us.

Here’s what Polar’s tracking data revealed about Bart’s sleep.

Sleep time

Sleep Time is the time between falling asleep and waking up. For example, you might go to bed at 9.50 and fall asleep at 10. If you wake up at 6 am, your Sleep Time will be 8 hours.

Bart’s Sleep Time per night varied between 8 and 8.5 hours. This tells us that his average Sleep Time was more than 8 hours per night, which is considerably longer than the average Sleep Time among Polar Sleep Plus™ users, which is 7 hours 22 minutes (7,37 hours).

However, a longer Sleep Time doesn’t automatically mean better sleep quality because the longer you sleep, the more fragmented your sleep gets. Most of us experience more interruptions during the small hours of the night because our need for deep sleep has been met by then and our sleep is lighter the closer we get to the morning.

Actual sleep

As said, Sleep Time alone isn’t enough to assess the quality of our sleep. That’s why we also measure Actual Sleep Time, which is the time you are actually sleeping (Sleep Time minus interruptions). If your Sleep Time is eight hours (from the previous example) and you toss and turn for a total of 59 minutes, your Actual Sleep is 7 h and 1 min or 87%.

Bart’s Actual Sleep percentage per night varied between 89% and 94%, which is in line with the average Actual Sleep percentage of 93% among Polar Sleep Plus™ users.

Here it should be noted that most of us have several short and long interruptions during a normal night’s sleep so interruptions as such don’t mean you’ve slept poorly.


Sleep continuity

Sleep Continuity is a metric that describes how continuous your sleep is. It’s assessed on a scale of 1–5 with 5 being the best measure. The lower the value, the more fragmented your sleep is.

  • Very continuous sleep (5.0)
  • Continuous sleep (4.0–4.9)
  • Fairly continuous sleep (3.0–3.9)
  • Fairly fragmented sleep (2.0–2.9)
  • Fragmented sleep (1.0–1.9)

There are no hard numbers as to what constitutes an objectively good Sleep Continuity grade, but a Sleep Continuity value of 5 is rare because as mentioned before, interruptions are normal. Rather than comparing your Sleep Continuity value to the highest possible score, you should track your sleep for a few weeks and find out what your baseline is. Then you can compare your highest and lowest values to what is normal for you.

Bart’s Sleep Continuity value varied between 1.4 and 2.8. This is around the average Sleep Continuity value for an individual Polar Sleep Plus™ user, which is 3.2.

Tracking his sleep gave Bart valuable insight into how traveling affects his sleep:

“I learned that my first night on the training camp (in a different bed) and with a longer travel and shorter night before the travel was a night with very low quality of sleep and a lot of interruptions,” Bart says. “I was surprised to see how interrupted my sleep was on some nights.”

At home, in familiar surroundings and routines, Bart’s lowest Sleep Continuity value may be much higher.


All in all, Bart Aernout’s Sleep Time was longer than the average Sleep Time of Polar Sleep Plus™ users, but his highest Actual Sleep and Sleep Continuity values were around the average values of Polar Sleep Plus™ users. Considering that Bart was traveling, his Actual Sleep and Sleep Continuity scores were good under the special circumstances.

As the need for sleep can vary between individuals even by three hours per night, there isn’t a universal ideal amount of sleep that would be perfect for everyone. But, what we can say is this: we all need enough quality sleep and a regular sleeping rhythm to ensure our overall wellbeing and maximize our physical performance.

It’s more useful to find out what your personal baseline is and what are good values for you than focus on hitting the highest possible values.

To achieve that, it’s more useful to find out what your personal baseline is and what are good values for you than focus on hitting the highest possible values. That’s why Bart Aernouts plans to keep tracking his sleep.

“I think sleep tracking with Polar could be very helpful in the future to learn how to improve my sleep quality and which bedtime routines can help to achieve this. I will continue to track my sleep and use the data to learn more about how sleep affects my training and vice versa.”

If you liked this post, don’t forget to share so that others can find it, too.

Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

A woman tracking her sleep during the night
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