Endurance Athlete Colin O’Brady Shares His Nightly Bedtime Routine

Sometimes Mondays can feel like you’re about to embark on an arduous solo trek across the frozen tundra, but if you happen to be endurance athlete Colin O’Brady, you probably really are! Last December, he became the first person to make the nearly 1,000-mile journey across Antarctica alone, complete with a 32-hour sleepless dash to the finish! Colin says that sleep is actually a crucial step in his training regimen and he took me through his nightly routine step-by-step for the first installment of our new series, My Bedtime Story. As you all know from my Sleep30 Challenge by Sleep Number chronicles, sticking to a regular nightly routine is an integral part of getting a good night’s sleep — so read my conversation with Colin below for some great tips and then sign up for the Challenge, so you’ll be rested and ready to take on the work week!

Katie Couric: Colin, I’m so amazed by your incredible achievement, congratulations! You completed the final stretch of your 921-mile (!) solo journey with one sleepless, 32-hour burst – share with us what that was like…
Colin O’Brady: It was a crazy push. I had come within 77 miles of finishing and I was running low on food and supplies. More than anything though, I was locked in this place in my mind where I wanted to push. I’d normally gone no more than 12 hours of continuous motion pulling my sled per day. And I was 53 days in at this point, but with that final burst, something just kind of came over me. It had been a lot of physical training as an athlete to get my body and, more importantly, my mind in a place to be able to do something like that. It was sort of a once in a lifetime experience —  I call it a flow state that I tapped into to make that final push.

Katie: You had to endure that last stretch without sleep, but what part does sleep play in your physical training overall? How do you think it affects your performance?
Colin: What I did in that final push is not representative of what I normally do to prepare. Sleep is a crucial element of my training and preparation. I like to make sure I get 8 or 9 hours per night because I think it makes all the difference. And certainly I’m a big fan of naps as well. Oftentimes, I’ll have two training sessions in a day – I’ll do a morning session, then go home and eat for fuel, rest or nap, and then go out for the second training session before getting a full night’s sleep. I think that schedule plays a huge role in my performance overtime.

Katie: So would you say that getting a good night’s sleep makes you a better athlete? How does it impact your relationships and your life as a whole?
Colin: When I get a full night’s sleep, I’m fully rejuvenated as an athlete. My body is able to repair. People often don’t think about this — they think you get stronger by lifting weights in the gym or running around a track or a trail, but actually those are the things that are breaking down the muscles. It’s actually when you’re recovering — and sleep is a huge part of that — when your muscles are rebuilding and getting stronger. So sleep is so important to me as an athlete to optimize my performance. And that dovetails into the better person element. When my body’s optimized, I have the full amount of energy, the full amount of patience, the full amount of empathy, compassion, love, etc. It makes all those things much more optimized than they would be otherwise. When I don’t get a good night’s sleep, my athletic performance suffers, but so do my personal relationships, my work, my work-life balance, etc. So sleep is something I don’t often want to negotiate on other than when I’m pushing 32 hours to finish some crazy world record. In any normal circumstance, I prioritize sleep to make me the best athlete and the best person that I can possibly be.

Katie: What’s your number 1 tip that makes a real difference in your sleep quality?
Colin: I think the temperature of the room is really important. I’ve obviously slept in some really extreme temperatures – like in Antarctica where the average temperature is minus 30 degrees outside (but I have a minus 40 degree sleeping bag!) Inside my house, I like to keep it cool, so I’ll put some covers on top of me because I’ve really found that makes a big difference for a sustained night’s sleep.

Katie: Okay, here we go! Take us through your nighttime routine step-by step…
Colin: My nighttime routine usually starts around 9 or 9:30. After 9 o’clock, I like to have no screen time, so I’ll put my phone away for the day and really be present and start kind of winding down the night — dim the lights in my house and just get the light filtered out, particularly in the summer evenings.

The biggest thing I really like to do before bed is read. I wear comfortable, loose fitting pajamas, get in my Sleep Number bed, and usually prop it up so I can read. I also do my best not to read on devices — I read actual books so my mind can focus a little bit better as I try to aim for that 8 to 9 hours sleep mark. And then, I put my ear plugs in and my eye mask on, which makes all the difference because I’m not disrupted in the night at all and I can get a fully deep night’s sleep and off I am to dreamland.

Katie: I love to read before bed, too! What’s a great book that we should all have on our reading lists?
Colin: One of my all-time favorites is The Alchemist by Paolo Coehlo – if you’ve never read it, I highly recommend. No matter what age or phase you find yourself in life, it’s sure to be inspiring.

Katie: Okay, last question – do you steal the covers? (Be honest, your wife will read this!) 🙂
Colin: Well I don’t know that I steal the covers, but Jenna likes to have the bottom of the sheets tucked in and I hate feeling constrained and tucked in, so my side is always untucked at the bottom and hers is all tucked in, so we fight over which is better. It always frustrates her when I untuck it, but I can’t sleep in the tucked in side!

Katie: I get it! Thanks for spending time with us and sharing all your sleep wisdom, Colin!