London Free Press: A study looked at Olympic-bound Canadian women rowers who train on Fanshawe Lake in London and found they perform better when they sleep better

You snooze, you win — at least that’s how the Canadian women’s eight rowing team sees it.

The national Olympic team, which trains at a facility on Fanshawe Lake in London, has taken steps to improve their sleep to maximize their performance in a bid to win gold at the Rio Olympics this month.

Their strategy includes wearing blue light-blocking glasses — blue light exposure reduces your ability to feel tired, and is often the light in computer and cell phone screens — shutting off electronics an hour before bed, taking daily 20-minute naps and spending at least one more hour sleeping each night.

The tactics came from a study the team took part in that was funded by Mitacs and conducted by a researcher at the University of Calgary. The goal was to improve the quality and quantity of the athletes’ sleep.

“The rowing coaches noticed a relation between poor sleep and the team’s inability to recover from workouts, so they contacted (the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance in Calgary) and we developed a study to optimize their sleep,” said Amy Bender, who spearheaded the study that looked at the sleep patterns before and after a three-week period where specific tools where used on the team members.

The findings were largely positive, with most of the 11 athletes studies reporting they were satisfied with their quality of sleep.

“I found it helped me a great deal,” said Natalie Mastracci, who’s been on the senior national team since 2011. “Having more sleep enabled me to be a better athlete in general and I found I wasn’t feeling the fatigue of training until later in the week.”

The rowing team typically trains three times a day, two sessions on the water and one in the weight room, for a total of five hours a day.

Before the study, Mastracci said she was sleeping between four to six hours a night.

“I wasn’t prioritizing sleep,” said the 27-year-old from Welland. “The study forced us into a routine of more sleep and it really improved my performance.”

She’s not alone.

Prioritizing sleep is often easier said than done, which is why Bender and her team were brought in.

“I think they needed to be trained to sleep smarter,” said Bender. “I know the team emphasized the importance of sleep, but maybe didn’t have the right tools to do that, so by incorporating our expertise we were able to give them the proper tools.”

Those tools aren’t just a golden strategy for athletes, but something everyone can apply, Bender said.

“Sleep should be regarded as important as exercise and diet,” she said.

“I think anyone wanting to feel better, have a better mood and feel more healthy, could benefit from adding more sleep. It’s not just specific to athletes.”

Byline: Hailey Salvian