How a Star College Basketball Player Prioritizes Sleep

Xavier Johnson, Indiana Hoosiers' top point guard, stresses the significance of sleep for peak performance and recovery. In an interview preceding the Saatva-sponsored Empire Classic, Johnson shared insights on sleep's impact, bedtime routines, managing travel disruptions, and recovery practices after games. He also discussed dietary changes and the importance of mental toughness in handling social media scrutiny as team captain.

Xavier Johnson, a point guard for the Indiana Hoosiers, is one of the top college basketball players in the country. Making his return after a season-ending foot injury last year, Johnson understands how crucial sleep is when it comes to both on-court performance and post-game muscle recovery.

Ahead of the Empire Classic, an upcoming college basketball tournament sponsored by Saatva, we had the chance to sit down with Johnson to learn more about how he winds down before bed, what he brings with him to sleep better on a plane, and the trendy wellness treatment that helps him recover after a tough match.

Q: How does sleep affect your athletic performance?

A: I try to get eight hours of sleep every night—and when I don’t, I feel it. My body feels different. It feels like it’s thrown off and I feel sleepy.

Q: How do you wind down before you go to bed?

A: Some days, I watch TV before bed and other days, I turn off the TV. That’s usually when I get my best sleep—when I don’t hear any noise in the background. Other than that, I don’t have a typical routine I follow. Sometimes I stretch, depending on how my body feels.

xavier johnson, indiana hoosiers basketball player

Q: Do you have to share a bedroom with a roommate on campus, or do you have your own space?

A: I live off-campus. That’s definitely a perk, for sure!

Q: How do you balance being an athlete with being a college student?

A: I feel like that’s something the school does well—helping us balance schoolwork and hoops. They don’t put us in too many classes to the point where we could be putting our education in jeopardy.

Q: You often have to travel for games—and sometimes far! How do you make sure traveling doesn’t mess up your game?

A: Thankfully, we usually don’t get jet lag when we travel to the East Coast, but we do go across the country as well. For example, when we went to Las Vegas last season, I had to get more sleep. In a scenario like that, you’re probably going to sleep a little bit earlier and try to sleep on the plane because that jet lag can be crazy.

xavier johnson, indiana hoosiers basketball player

Q: What do you bring with you to make it easier to sleep on a plane?

A: I usually bring a big hoodie so I can get comfortable sleeping on the plane. Those plane seats are not comfortable to sleep in, honestly. And even though I’m a smaller guy on the team, I still try to get an aisle seat so I can have some more legroom.

Q: What have your coaches and trainers taught you about the importance of sleep?

A: Someone who’s taught me about the importance of sleep is Clif Marshal, the director of athletic performance at Indiana. He’s big on sleep. I’ve learned that one of the most important things for athletes to do is get adequate sleep because a good night’s rest is the best way to recover.

Q: What does your recovery routine look like?

A: It depends on how many minutes I’m playing in a game. If I play 30, then my strength coach sends me to cryotherapy. I don’t like being in cold water, so I’ll go in the cryo machine and get in there for three minutes instead. I usually stretch, and I’ll be with head athletic trainer, Tim Garl. If I have any problems, I’ll tell him and he’ll help work them out for me. He’s an old-school guy, so we’ll use a lot of the old-school machines.

xavier johnson, indiana hoosiers basketball player

Q: How about your workout routine and diet?

A: I’ve actually changed my diet. That’s one thing I learned from Jalen Hood-Schifino, a former teammate and the 17th overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2023 NBA Draft. I saw his diet, and he didn’t eat a lot of red meat. He was a big fish and vegetables guy. That’s one thing I’ve changed. I’m a guy that eats a lot of fish now, eats a lot of salads.

When the season comes around, I keep my workouts to about 30 to 45 minutes, not too long, because we still have to go through two-hour practices and I’m coming off an injury. I try to limit the amount of time on the floor by myself.

Q: As the team captain, what’s one piece of advice you’ve imparted to your fellow teammates?

A: Indiana is a big social media school. We get a lot of fans, who can say some things that can hurt feelings. But you have to have great mental toughness to be able to handle the comments. You signed up to be in one of the best basketball programs in the country, so there’s a lot of attention on you—and you definitely do need to have that mental toughness.

For more sleep tips from athletes, check out the following articles:

Photos courtesy of the University of Indiana

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