What do astronauts and athletes have in common? Well, for the U.S. Olympic Team this year, they both have Dr. Mark Rosekind, a former NASA scientist and president of Alertness Solutions, helping them get a better night’s rest.

“Sleep is so important and so basic that it could make the difference between winning the gold or the silver at the Olympic Games,” said Dr. Rosekind, who was awarded the NASA Exceptional Service Medal for his work with pilots and astronauts on combating fatigue. “The proper amount of sleep can boost an athlete’s performance as much as 30 percent.”

Hilton Hotels Corporation, an official sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Team, has created the “Hilton Competitive Advantage Program” based on recommendations from Dr. Rosekind. The re-designed dorm rooms at the Colorado Springs U.S. Olympic Training Center have incorporated a number of critical elements to optimize the sleep environment, thus helping to increase the athletes” alertness and reaction time for peak performance.

“When competing at the Olympic level, even the smallest of details can directly impact an athlete’s performance, and sleep is one of the most critical factors,” said Steve Roush, chief of sport performance for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Enhancements include:

  • Enhanced bed size and bedding, including a plush-top mattress to reduce tossing and turning and to improve circulation while sleeping.
  • A usable work area.
  • An effective wake-up mechanism — a cube-shaped clock radio that automatically adjusts for daylight savings time and includes a connector for MP3 and CD players, which is billed as the “world’s easiest to set” alarm clock.
  • Sensory changes involving temperature, lighting and visual stimuli.

At the request of the USOC’s Sport Performance Team, the complete details are not being revealed to prevent competing countries from gaining the same competitive edge as the U.S. athletes.

“It sounds simple, but getting the proper rest really does increase my confidence and abilities on and off the track,” said Apolo Ohno, U.S. Olympic speedskater and Colorado Springs U.S. Olympic Training Center resident athlete. “Rest and relaxation is a critical component to competing at your best.”

Many of the new dorm elements will be replicated for the U.S. Olympic Team at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Italy, as well. “Familiar surroundings during training and competition are essential,” says Dr. Rosekind. “For an athlete, two hours less sleep than needed is the same as having a blood alcohol level of .05 when it comes to the effect on performance.”

I wonder if any of these changes involve the Sleep Number bed?