In our Sleeping With… series, we ask people from different career paths, backgrounds, and stages of life how they make sleep magic happen.
It’s not an overstatement to say that making history is part of Ashleigh Johnson’s life. The U.S. Olympic water polo goalkeeper was the first Black American athlete to make the U.S. Olympic Women’s Water Polo Team in 2016 and, by extension, the first to win a gold medal in the sport. Excelling is part of the job.
But when the pandemic delayed the 2020 Summer Games, Johnson (like the rest of us) had major downtime. She’d moved to California with her teammates for training but decided to stay in her apartment when the Games were postponed. “My roommates went to their homes, and I was alone here,” Johnson tells SELF. “So I was like, Okay, we’re not training right now. I don’t need to be at the top of my game. I need to give my body some time to rest.”
The 26-year-old has dedicated much of her life to competing and advancing representation within water polo. So quarantine was an opportunity to relax and reflect. “The thing that surprised me the most was how hard it was to slow down,” Johnson says. “How hard it was to not go all out on every workout…and how hard it felt not to live in the extreme.”
Not only did Johnson get “really comfortable” with herself, but she also discovered exercising for pleasure. (“Let me give myself the space to do yoga every day,” she recalls thinking.) She also noticed subtle changes in her body—like what her hair and skin needed when she wasn’t spending hours in a pool each day. “I had to create my own structures and my own awareness of who I was,” she says. “And that was interesting because I don’t get that time a lot.”
Below, Ashleigh Johnson talks to SELF about how the 2021 Summer Olympics will be different, her favorite skin-care products, and the journaling prompt that turns her day around.
I’ve been revisiting the moment I found out the Games would be postponed a lot lately because it puts a lot of things into perspective.
I think that every Olympics is different in itself. But this one is going to be far from what somebody might expect the Olympic Village might look like or how competitions might look. One of my favorite parts of the Rio Games was sharing it with my family—for them to see me play and welcoming them into our team environment. And that’s definitely not going to happen this time, which is sad. But I’m grateful that the Games are happening, and we’re getting this opportunity to pursue this huge goal alongside the family that we’ve built as a team. So that’s going to be really cool. I think that every athlete is just super grateful that it’s happening. They’re also preparing for what they can control. We’re just there to be ready to perform and to represent.
I’ve been sleeping really well. I’ve been prioritizing it because I realized how much it impacts how I perform, train, and feel.
As a goalkeeper, sleep helps my ability to track the ball, my ability to respond, and my ability to be mentally aware. There’s a world of difference between seven hours and eight and a half hours. So I’ve been trying to get eight and a half to nine hours of sleep each night. That’s meant cutting my Netflix time, which can also be super relaxing, but sleep is something that I’ve learned that I need to prioritize as an athlete. It’s changed my world.
When we started training again, it was gradual. I’m sure you can relate because everyone has had to adjust.
We have a great trainer who got us access to testing and set really strict protocols with how we interact. The trainer made us feel really safe about getting back into training. But it was a gradual process. We didn’t just get back into the pool and start doing contact. We were swimming. We’re doing opposite starts on opposite sides of the pool. We were in separate groups, so I didn’t see my full team together for a long time. We’re still sanitizing and maintaining distance if we spend time apart.
Once I’m home from practice, I have a skin-care routine. I layer a bunch of products—I’m really into my skin.
I love skin care, and I love trying new things! I lose a lot of moisture from the chlorine, sun, and layering on so much sunscreen. So anything that brings moisture, I’m about it.
After I shower I use CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser, which is just tried-and-true for me. I put on Hyaluronic Acid Serum from Ghost Democracy. I use a C E Ferulic Acid from SkinCeuticals. And one of my favorite products right now is Bioessance Vitamin C, Squalane Oil. It’s really, really great at locking in moisture.
Hydrating Facial Cleanser
C E Ferulic with 15% L-Ascorbic Acid
Squalane + 10% Vitamin C Dark Spot Serum
And then, for my body, I use Cetaphil, which is super basic and really straightforward, but it works for me. It’s so hydrating. I use the facial one on my body when I’m in Florida because it’s super humid. But when I’m in California, and it’s really dry, I use the thick cream, and it just works every time. I haven’t changed this for years, and it’s really, really nice.
Once I’m in bed, I put on my bonnet, light a candle, and I try to read for pleasure, for growth, or for personal development.
Lighting a candle changes the mood in my room. It gives me that cue that it’s time to relax, that it’s time to recalibrate, and that it’s time to move forward. I’m creating that space to unwind from the day and let go of all of the things that might be weighing me down. I love my room, and I love the space that I built. But the candles have really made a huge difference for me.
Right now I’m reading a book called The Vanishing Half, and I love exploring our narratives through fiction. I’m not a very organized person, but I love organization. So for the past month or so, I’ve been really intentional about having my schedule written down.
I also give myself journal prompts. It’s important to have a full sense of identity, but it’s hard to have that in this process.
That’s another thing that I was gifted during the pandemic—time to think about who I am as an athlete and what I might want after my athletic career. I’ve watched a lot of my teammates stop playing and be totally lost. Sometimes you have to go through that to really get a feel of who you are. But I think it’s also important to give yourself the opportunity to think through that before it happens.
One of my favorite journal prompts is to go over what made me happy that day—I try to do it like three times a week. And that’s part of recognizing patterns and understanding what’s important to me. It helps me notice what will continue to feed my heart and my soul. It’s also about recognizing the things I’m grateful for. You can have a really bad day and get caught up in what made you unhappy and all of that stuff. But every time I key back into what made me happy today, it feels really good—it’s super enriching.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.