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Celebrating National Sleep Awareness Month, the elite swimmer got to talking with Travel + Leisure about his partnership with mattress company Molecule and the importance of catching some Zs both as an athlete and as a dad — and surprisingly enough, the two are pretty similar.
"If I don't get the sleep and the nutrition I need then I don't have the tools to be able to ask my body what I need to ask it to [do] every single day, and that's trying to make sure my family's taken care of [and] trying to make sure I'm taken care of," he said. "I think sleeping is — no matter if I am training or I'm a retired athlete — a crucial part of my everyday life."
And these days, Phelps, the most decorated Olympic athlete in the world, with 28 medals, 23 of them gold, knows exactly how to get in a sleepy state of mind, starting with an 8:30 p.m. alarm to remind him to start getting ready for bed.
"I like to try and get ready for bed before 9:30 p.m. so I basically give myself an hour to get up and take care of everything that needs to be done [like] making sure the windows are shut and the doors are locked to make sure we're all protected for the night," he explained, adding, "I don't spend much time on my phone before I go to bed, the blue light triggers so many things in your mind."
He's also makes it a point to be hydrated before heading to bed.
But for the nights that he's having trouble winding down, Phelps, a self-proclaimed "data guy" who even has a sleep-monitoring device under his mattress, has a mind trick for drifting off.
"I have this little game I play," he told T+L. "You lay down in bed and close your eyes and you go around the room with your eyes closed and you try to describe as much as you can in detail about everything you remember in your room and the second that your mind wanders, you start back at square one. I would be shocked if you got around your room more than five times and you were still awake, it's just a really cool calming relaxation tool that I've used for quite some time that always works."
And a pro tip: "If your nightstand has three drawers, make sure you say it has three drawers, be as specific as you possibly can," he added.
As for navigating life during the COVID-19 pandemic, Phelps described it as a "rollercoaster" being at home with his sons Boomer, 4, Becket, 3, and Maverick, 1, however his "routine-driven" lifestyle helped him and his wife, Nicole, keep their family in check.
"Honestly for me, it was awesome as a dad being able to be a part of every little moment, like that is something I'm grateful for," he said. "I'm a routine-driven human being, it's the one thing I've lived and breathed my whole entire career. Obviously, at times, it's been difficult to stay on that routine for the entire year but for the most part, I feel like we've done a really good job."
In a former life, Phelps may have been on an intense training regimen preparing for the upcoming Olympics — something he told T+L he would have been up for and that the extra year of training may have even kept him in the pool for 2024.
"I know how I work so had it been 2017 for the 2016 games I would still compete or I would have tried to compete," he said. "I think for me personally if I was in the situation, I'd probably stay around for another three years and go for one more Olympics."
As for his fellow Olympians heading to Tokyo this summer, like Ryan Lochte, Phelps' is putting out good energy for everyone involved.
"I wish all of the athletes who are preparing all the best," he said. "It'll be a different Games but they still are competing for an Olympics gold medal so to have that chance — it's pretty special."