Steal Michael Phelps’ Sleeping Routine For Optimum Performance

How the most decorated Olympian of all time sleeps

If you don’t know who Michael Phelps is, here’s a short wiki intro:

Michael Fred Phelps is an American former competitive swimmer and the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 28 medals. Phelps also holds the all-time records for Olympic gold medals (23), Olympic gold medals in individual events (13), and Olympic medals in individual events.

One of the most important things we can learn from him is how he sleeps. You see, Olympians are the most health-focused people you’ll find. If they don’t pay attention to their diet, exercise, and sleep habits, they don’t stand a chance.

Phelps has a seemingly strange sleeping routine. But before understanding his sleep secrets for top performance, let’s go back in time.

Michael’s coach, Robert Bowman saw him when he was a teenager. His long torso, big hands, and short legs made him an attractive swimming candidate.

But Bowman knew to compete in the Olympics, he would need more than that. Every candidate in the Olympics has the perfect body structure and is the best at what they do. Phelps was obsessive, but again, all elite performers are obsessive. Most athletes have their diet and exercise on point. They have great coaches and a team to help them excel at what they do.

Bowman was looking for an edge. And he soon found it. Bowman worked on Michael’s mental strength. He wanted to make him the strongest mental swimmer in the pool by giving him the right mindset.

Mindset trumps all. Because success is often a matter of will, not skill.

When Phelps was still a boy, he started swimming to cool off steam that was driving his mom and teachers crazy. Even though he was better than most kids his age, he had a problem—his emotions. His parents were divorcing and he had trouble coping with stress.

To tackle these challenges Bowman turned to a lesser-known technique.


He bought a book on relaxation exercises which Michael practiced before going to sleep. The book contained instructions like — “Tighten your right hand into a fist and release it. Imagine the tension melting away”

Frankly, when I first read this, I dismissed it. I convinced myself it wouldn’t work without even trying it out. Only 2 years after that point I came to realize how effective this is, albeit in a different manner — through meditation.

I learned to meditate at Ananda Sangha. We follow the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, the author of the spiritual classic Autobiography of a Yogi. When I joined, I could hardly meditate for 10 minutes. But soon after my first few classes, I was meditating for 30–40 minutes, two times a day.

This gave rise to a new problem — sitting still for 40 minutes or more.

Meditators often have a problem sitting for long hours. The major reason behind it is the tension in the body. To solve this problem Yogananda gave us a set of 39 energization exercises to release any stored tension in the muscles and sit comfortably for long periods of time. The whole routine takes 10–12 minutes to complete. You can find it here.

The exercises gave me unprecedented energy and relaxed all parts of my body to meditate without distractions.

A few days later, I came across the sleeping routine of Phelps once more. Equipped with the understanding of energization, I could see them in a new light.

When I started linking these two concepts together, my brain clicked. I realized that the same exercises I use before meditation can be used before my sleep as well.

And I did exactly that. Which helps me to sleep like a baby.

Disclaimer: The only problem is once an earthquake couldn’t wake me up in the middle of the night. It can be fatal, proceed with caution!

This Principle Can Change Your Life

So why does this work? What is the principle of energization and relaxation?

Here you go: “The greater the will the greater the flow of energy”

When you tense a body part, you concentrate on it. And by concentrating, you send energy. Did you ever get a pump while working out? It’s because blood, nutrients, and oxygen flow to the muscle you’re concentrating on.

Once energy flows to the body part, the tensions melt away. By using your willpower and concentration, you can energize and relax every muscle.

In my experience, all other tricks to improve your sleep — have less caffeine, limit blue light screens, etc — are less efficient as compared to this.

If you don’t want to do the whole set of 39 exercises I mentioned, here’s a short version: Lie on your back and from your ankle to your head, tense and relax each part of the body.

To make it easy you can try these parts — ankle, calves, thighs, buttocks, lower back, middle back, upper back, stomach, forearms, upper arm, chest, side neck, front neck, and back neck. Spend around 30 seconds with each part, tensing and relaxing each around 3 times. I often fall asleep before I complete the whole routine.

Another reason it’s helpful is it gives an anchor to your mind. The problem with falling asleep is that the body may want to but the mind doesn’t let it. Thoughts about the past, future, what happened at work, what will happen, etc, rule our minds. The routine makes you aware, present, and stop the rumination cycle of the monkey mind.

You may not be going through the same amount of stress as Michael was when his parents were divorcing. But all of us have some. It’s hidden in the background, slowly eating away our minds. It’s important to empty your cup and ground yourself every day. Stress, like interest, can compound quickly — pay it off every day.

Getting good at this routine is easier than you think. Feel free to practice this many times throughout the day, whenever you feel stressed or stiff.

See the magic of relaxation unfold in your life.


  • The story of Phelps was taken from “[The Power of Habit](”, by Charles Duhigg

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Written on July 1, 2020