In our Sleeping With… series, we ask people from different career paths, backgrounds, and stages of life how they make sleep magic happen.
Jessica Long—the second-most decorated Paralympian in United States history—has a talent for being immediately relatable. Whether she’s doing TikTok challenges or joking about the people who call her “inspiring,” Long exudes the warmth of your favorite workout class instructor who just so happens to be a record-setting swimmer and has trained alongside Michael Phelps.
The 29-year-old, a bilateral below-knee amputee who won her first Paralympic gold medal at 12, is committed to changing the narrative that people with disabilities are inspiring for grabbing a latte. Though she has lots of patience and compassion for people who have questions (on TikTok and IRL), she does get frustrated by people who are impressed by her existence. “That shouldn’t be inspiring,” Long tells SELF. “But I love being an inspiration for my accomplishments.”
Given the magnitude of those accomplishments, Long granted herself a training reprieve when she married her boyfriend of four years, Lucas Winters, in October 2019. Long gushes about how excited she is to have her husband’s support during this chapter of her career, “but I didn’t want swimming to take over,” she says. “My first priority was the wedding.”
The couple married three weeks after the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships (where Long medaled in several events) and spent two weeks in December honeymooning in South Africa. “By the time we entered January 2020, I was playing catch-up with my training,” Long explains. But she doesn’t have any regrets. “I was like, I’m going to enjoy this time of my life. Hopefully, you only get married once.”
Long was just finding her groove when the Paralympic Games were postponed in March 2020. “I had to grieve,” she recalls. “I painted our entire condo. But I remember thinking, I have a choice to lose all this endurance that I just built up in the past three months. I was still struggling, but I felt like I could either press on or let the negativity be toxic and heavy.”
So Long got creative. As for many of us, her quarantine exercise included YouTube videos. “I was running around the couch. I went outside a lot,” she says. And a few months later (“I was out of the water for exactly 75 days”), Long was back to a more traditional swim training routine in pretty good shape, she says, noting that even she was a little surprised.
As the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics approach, Long is savoring the training and even the nerves. Below, she talks to SELF about her bedtime schedule, her favorite products, and how she’ll handle sleeping during the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic games.
I sleep really well, but I’m definitely a little bit of a diva.
I’ll complain, like, “I’m freezing, or my shoulders hurt.” And I have to lie a certain way, but I sleep really well. I really love to sleep. I think that’s an amputee thing because I’m exhausted throughout the day. My legs hurt a lot during the day, and I only have a certain amount of energy to give.
People often drain me—I’m definitely an introvert. So I love my bedtime routine because it’s me time.
Bedtime is truly one of my favorite times. That’s when I recharge, knowing that I’m going to replenish my skin and my body. I end almost every night with an Epsom salt bath. I love Epsom salts. Dr. Teal’s Lavender Epsom Salt is my favorite. It’s perfect for helping me get ready for bed.
I’m a big SkinCeuticals girl. I use their hyaluronic acid when my skin is a little wet, and I let it soak in. Then I move on to my self-tanner. I use Lux Unfiltered Gradual Self-Tanner. It’s just a lotion, but it makes me feel so good when I wake up in the morning, and I’m a little bit tan. And it’s by my favorite blogger, Sivan Ayla. I’ve watched her grow, so I feel like I’ve been a part of the journey. I’ll do my self-tanner, and after it has settled in, I go in with a moisturizer, and I put it on super, super thick.
Dr. Teal’s Lavender Epsom Salt
SkinCeuticals Hyaluronic Acid Intensifier Hydrating Serum
Lux Unfiltered Gradual Self-Tanning Cream
Sometimes I’ll use a gua sha stone to depuff my face. While I’m doing that, I will take my vitamins. I’m a big vitamins girl. I take iron because, especially being a female athlete, I have to make sure iron levels are good to go. Otherwise, I feel it the next morning during training.
I actually got my husband, Lucas, on a retinol cream and sunscreen.
I was like, “We need to start preserving your skin. We’re behind.” So he does it even while I’ve been away training. Lucas is the sweetest. I love doing all this stuff with him.
After washing my face and taking my vitamins, I put my eye cream on—it’s probably the wrong order. I don’t even care.
My hair has been a little air-dried at this point. That’s when I put in Davines OI Oil because, as a swimmer, my hair is so damaged. And then I climb into bed.
I do have a bad habit. I use my phone in bed, but lately I’ve been plugging it in on a different wall far, far away.
But that’s after I’ve looked at TikTok, gone through Pinterest, and I’ve set my alarm. I also love cleaning out my phone’s history. It’s very weird. Then I try to read a book, and normally around this time—I’m coming to bed around 8:30 p.m. these days with training—I’ll only make it a couple of pages.
I have ice water next to my bed.
I don’t know when it started, but all of a sudden, I cannot go to bed without water. I’m drinking water all the time during the day because we have hydration tests. I cannot figure out when it started, but I did it one night, and that was the end of that. I have to keep water by my bed.
I’ve always been really into my nighttime routine. But more recently, having that routine helps with feeling more under control.
The Olympics and Paralympics are already so challenging. There’s so many things out of your control. It’s such a wonderful experience, but it’s not made to be easy. The beds are uncomfortable a lot of the time. You’re walking long distances. It’s hot. But it’s also one of the most amazing experiences.
I see the new athletes who come in, and it’s all about conserving your energy. There’s so much excitement. There are so many things happening. You’re part of Team USA. It’s everything you’ve worked for. And now we’re adding a whole new element of COVID-19 protocols.
So it’s all about mental toughness, right? But I am really thankful. I am living at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center, and I’m going through a lot of the protocols that we will have in place in Tokyo. There are moments where I’m just like, Oh, my gosh, this is really, really hard. So the way that I’m approaching this is: How do I conserve my energy, and what battles are worth fighting?
Knowing I’m going to have a good night’s sleep helps, but it’s also about recognizing that sometimes I don’t get that perfect night routine, especially during competitions when life is crazy. There are certain times that you just have to go with the flow. And that can be a little hard, especially when a gold medal is on the line.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.