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Athlete Spotlight: Susan Francia

Two-time Olympic gold medalist and five-time world champion rower Susan Francia shares sleep’s significant impact on her athletic conditioning and performance.

Originally published at Oxygen Magazine (

Oxygen: How many hours of sleep do you get per night?

Susan Francia: I try to sleep about eight hours but usually get closer to six and a half. I’m a night owl. I somehow find a second wind at 10 p.m. Where is that second wind at 4 p.m.? Sometimes I take a 30- to 45-minute nap after work, usually before I work out in the afternoon. It's the perfect amount of time to wake up refreshed.

Oxygen: How have you adjusted your sleep schedule to cater to your training and travel schedule?

SF: Practice starts pretty early. Nobody told me that when I joined rowing! So I try my best to go to bed early. When I’m traveling, I have to be very disciplined and not take naps. Otherwise, I can’t get a full night’s rest. Especially if I’m changing time zones, I have to adjust as quickly as possible so I can be at my best when I race.

Oxygen: How does lack of sleep impact your performance?

SF: Rowing is an early-morning sport, so it’s the first thing I do. There’s nothing worse than feeling like I’m dragging myself to practice and — even worse — dragging through practice. There’s no food or water or special pill that can make up for lack of sleep (and more importantly, lack of good sleep!).

Oxygen: How have you felt sleep benefits your performance most?

SF: It obviously helps me feel refreshed for the next day’s training, but it has also helped keep me injury-free. I recently got a new Molecule mattress, which has made a big difference. I wake up without any back pain, which I used to experience a lot. And the mattress also has cooling technology that helps regulate my body temperature, so I sleep better. I sweat enough with exercise. I don’t need to be sweating while I’m sleeping!

SF: I put my phone away before I even brush my teeth. Whether you’re an athlete or not, I think it’s good to go to bed with a clear mind. To get to my “Zen place,” I like to read various historical fiction novels before dozing off.

Oxygen: What are your top strategies that help you sleep better?

SF: Honestly, finding a quality mattress that eliminated my back pain and keeps me cool made a huge difference. I also have an adjustable bed frame (just like grandma!) so I can elevate my upper body and prop my knees up a little. Sleep is such an essential part of our day, and I think we undervalue it!

Read the full story at Oxygen Magazine (