Noam Yaron has just swum 75 kilometres across Lake Geneva in less than 20 hours. The young athlete explains how good sleep management contributed to his extraordinary achievement.
Technical, muscular and cardiovascular training, nutrition management, hydration, breathing and flexibility, medical follow-up and psychological shaping are now standards in the physical preparation of elite athletes. To set the new record for swimming across Lake Geneva, Noam Yaron still had to surpass them: swimming 75 km for 19 hours and 53 minutes required above all work on his sleep hygiene.
“The many tips found online are not enough to prepare your body and mind for this type of challenge. Professional guidance and a sense of detail are essential, because from physical preparation to equipment, including sponsors, everything is crucial to achieving this level of performance,” Noam Yaron says. Furthermore, achievement is not within everyone’s reach. The 24-year-old Vaud native is above all an elite athlete, a former Swiss junior champion in open water swimming.
He started training in January to accomplish his feat in mid-July 2021. “I did a lot of running at first to improve my endurance, and I worked on my cardiovascular and muscular capacities at the gym.” As the pools were closed at the time due to the pandemic, he did not swim much during his preparation. “My friends and family doubted that I could achieve this feat. Of course I had to limit my training, because the lake is very cold in winter. I went into 4°C water for an hour and a half in February!”
To date, few studies explore how sleep hygiene benefits sports performance.
For this performance of approximately 24 hours of swimming and 30 hours of wakefulness, previous records showed that special preparation was needed to manage the night-time phase. To make swimming at night safer, Noam Yaron’s team designed a water line system with blue lighting pulled by boat. The specific colour of light was suggested by the Centre for Investigation and Research in Sleep (CIRS) at the CHUV. “Blue light helps people to stay awake at night because it signals, via visual pathways, to our internal biological clock that it’s daytime and limits the release of melatonin,” explains Virginie Bayon, an associate physician at the CIRS. “That means a dynamic and alert state is maintained. We also advised him to take longer breaks during the night if possible.”
The CIRS team provided the swimmer with a sleep management programme in line with his lifestyle that would improve his physiological and psychological health, and have positive consequences for his sports performance. No caffeine, reduced screen time in the evening and longer sleep periods from nine to ten hours per night were all part of Noam Yaron’s preparation.
To date, few studies explore how sleep hygiene benefits sports performance, but researchers and athletes are now showing a growing interest in this relationship. During sleep, the muscles repair themselves and cells regenerate thanks to a growth hormone secreted during deep sleep. This has a significant impact on physical and mental health. “All the physiological mechanisms are not yet completely understood, but the benefits are clear,” says Mathieu Berger, a postdoctoral researcher at the CIRS.
“Sleep optimises both the physical and mental capacities of athletes”
A sleep disorder, such as apnoea or insomnia, can lead to metabolic and cardiovascular problems. “We assess sleep quality. The aim is first to check that there are no sleep pathologies, and second to optimise sleep.” On this basis, the CIRS team formulated recommendations, on both sleep hygiene before the event and the right behaviour during Noam Yaron’s performance. And it worked! /
To make swimming at night safer, the Centre for Investigation and Research in Sleep at the CHUV designed a water line system with blue lighting.
Preparing for this one-of-a-kind feat included a test in real-life conditions over half the course. It was not a glorious success for Noam Yaron, during which he experienced severe pain in his ribs and groin. An analysis showed that the pain in the ribs was due to poor breathing that was causing his diaphragm to contract. The problem was solved by integrating backstroke phases. However, for the groin problem, which is inherent to the swimming technique, nothing could be done. The young record-holder then worked on accepting the pain using hypnosis techniques. “I knew I was going to feel pain after an hour and a half of swimming, I learned to deal with it.”
On top of his physical condition, Noam Yaron studied navigation, in collaboration with the team of Meteolakes, an online platform that monitoring and forecasting the condition of Swiss lakes based at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). “We studied different bio-physical and meteorological data on the lake to find the best swimming route and deliver custom monitoring during the performance,” the athlete says. Properly optimising conditions can save half a metre per minute. On the 75 km course that separates the Château de Chillon from Bains des Pâquis, the amount of time saved can be considerable. As part of efforts to promote water conservation, Noam Yaron also collaborated with Association de sauvegarde du Léman to raise public awareness about protecting Lake Geneva.
Virginie Bayon, associate physician at the Centre for Investigation and Research in Sleep at the CHUV