Most athletes regard nutrition and training as key components of a great performance, but what about the importance of sleep? We talked with competitive swimmer and Olympic gold medalist Conor Dwyer about the role sleep plays in his success.

Reducing sleep by just 90 minutes for one night can reduce daytime alertness by up to 32 percent. This is a fact that Dwyer knows all too well.

“It’s simple, less sleep equals decreased performance,” he states. “When I train, I breakdown my muscles from the exertion and when I rest, the muscles recover and grow stronger. It’s when I’m sleeping that I’m actually getting faster.”

“I don’t think you can be really successful at very much in life without proper sleep.”

Making a splash

In total, Dwyer has won 17 medals in major international swimming competitions. This includes nine gold, six silver and two bronze.

“Any time you’re on the road, sleep is harder to come by,” he explains. “At the Olympics, you’re usually dealing with a pretty big time change — lots of other athletes are around and of course, there’s a lot more stress involved.”

Health hazards

Sleepless nights pose threats to non-athletes, too. Recent studies have suggested a relationship between sleep deprivation and increased risk for obesity, heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

“I don’t think you can be really successful at very much in life without proper sleep. I know you can’t be successful against the best athletes in the world without it.”

The CDC recommends seven or more hours of sleep per night for adults between the ages of 18 and 60. Dwyer’s advice for those who struggle getting a good night’s rest?

“Ear plugs or noise canceling headphone can help,” he recommends. “Make sure the room is dark and try to avoid caffeine late in the day. All of these little things can help assure better rest at night.”