How Important Is Sleep For Athletes?

Because of the active lifestyle of athletes, sleep is essential for proper body recovery. Read this guide to find useful tips on improving sleep in athletes.

Being an athlete requires a lot of commitment, dedication, hard work and sacrificing since day one. Most professional athletes work on their careers since their childhood or teenage days, which means that their mindset and lifestyle are fully committed to their athletic goals.

Athletes usually have to follow a specific diet, to workout daily either in the gym or at training, they are often on the road because traveling is also a part of their career, so it seems that they have a pretty busy schedule with little or no free time. We often hear that athletes go to a so-called quarantine a few days before their big game or competition, and since they are infamous for partying (too) hard sometimes, this quarantine period is created to help them focus and be fully prepared and well-rested for their game.

Life of an athlete is structured in a way that they need to follow strict regimes and a healthy lifestyle which implies maintaining sleep hygiene. Sleep is essential for all of us, but for athletes especially, because they are so active and burn a lot of energy, they need extra calories and also more sleep in order to maintain their top form. Recently a lot of athletes has confessed how important is sleep for their results and success, but those statements are always a bit underestimated as we consider sleeping as our daily need, and not as our potential secret weapon. So, how much sleep do athletes need? Well, you might be surprised to hear that some pro athletes sleep 12 hours a day, they don’t do it because they are lazy or spoiled, but simply because they require more sleep.

Some studies have even shown that excess sleep can only enhance their performance. Sleep gives them a much needed energy boost and regulates their mental and physical condition which will result in better coordination and faster and more intense reactions. In today’s post, we are going to see how sleep affects athletic performance and list some useful sleeping tips for those who are struggling with establishing a healthy sleep routine.


Effects of Sleep on Athletic Performance

Sleeping is one thing that athletes should never underestimate, and it does not matter in how much of a good shape are they, if they did not get enough rest last night, their performance is going to be below expected. So let’s see what the main benefits of sleep for athletes are.

  • Reaction time – whether they are playing in a team or as a single player when the game is on, athletes need to be 100% focused and be able to react in a fraction of a second. A sleepless night can reduce their reaction time by 300%, and recovering from one night of poor sleep can take even days. Even little fatigue can lower their reaction time significantly. Since the world of sports is cruel, athletes usually cannot afford such mistakes because there may not be second chances.
  • Mental errors – sleep deprivation also affects athletes judgemental abilities. During the game there is not much time to think and analyze every detail, decisions have to be taken in seconds, and in order to make good ones their brain has to be rested and focused. Sleep loss can have a negative impact on decision making, moral reasoning, risk-taking, but also on their mood and mental health in general. Athletes should look at sleep as their weapon, so when they are not getting enough sleep, it’s not loaded.
  • Career – we all know that athletic careers have an expiration date and it’s in their thirties. However, due to some severe injuries, many athletes finish their careers too early. Besides those types of injuries, studies have shown that fatigue can have a much more significant impact on athletic career than it was assumed.
  • Better results – sleep enhances the body’s cognitive and physiological restoration during the night, and studies tested on basketball players and swimmers have shown that with extra sleep athletes are able to perform even better. They first followed their performance during four weeks of their regular sleep routine, and then they gave athletes a task to sleep up to 10 hours for seven weeks. After sleeping for 10 hours for seven weeks, their scores and overall results were improved. Considering that in sports every extra inch or second can be a record-breaking point, this just shows how meaningful and beneficial sleep can be for athletes.
  • Injury rates – injuries are a part of every athlete’s career, and even a small fall can put them on hold for months which can be fatal for one’s professional career. This is especially important for young athletes who are at the beginning of their career since the lack of sleep has been connected to increased sports injuries among adolescent athletes. Lack of sleep will slow down their reaction time, their judgment, and it will be easier for them to get injured. When it’s a game season, athletes can have games every few days, which leaves them no time to compensate even just one night of poor sleep. There is not enough time for their body to restore correctly and they will be more prone not only to injuries on the field but to illnesses as well.
  • Motivation – the life of a professional athlete can be challenging on and off the field, so it is important that their motivation stays high because every game counts. Daily training and games can be tough, especially if at the moment athlete is not providing the team with his best performance, so finding the motivation to go on can be a challenge sometimes. Proper sleep hygiene will settle all inner disbalances and help them recover and find their motivation again.
  • Hormones – when we reach the 3rd and 4th stage of deepest REM sleep that is when our hormones get regulated, and this is essential for athletes’ development. Growth hormone (HGH) is vital for muscle repair and building, oxidation of fats and bone growth. Another essential hormone is cortisol,  better known as the stress hormone, and it is also regulated during the deep sleep phase. The level of cortisol has an impact on glucose digesting, and for that reason, sleep can be essential for athletes who compete in sports such as swimming and track in which endurance has a significant role.


Sleep Tips For Athletes

Just as they are committed to their training, athletes need to be committed to their sleep routine. Life of an athlete can be filled with events, travels, parties, and stress which are all obstacles that hinder their much needed healthy sleep routine. That is why we have a few tips for them to stick through and stay focused.

  • Travel – when your business implies traveling that is usually considered a happy circumstance, but athletes have little or no time to relax and go sightseeing while they are abroad. For athletes, the situation is even more complicated if they have to switch continents and time zones, which can totally mess up their sleep routine. That is why it is recommended that they go to their destination a few days or even a week earlier if possible, as that would give them enough time to adjust to new a setting and prepare for the competition.
  • Caffeine and alcohol – at least two or three days before their big game, athletes should reduce the intake of coffee and alcohol, the best would be to avoid those drinks completely during their preparations and games.
  • Earplugs – long flights and even longer layovers are a killer for anyone’s sleep routine. Uncomfortable and noisy surroundings can be a problem even in hotels, so it is best to get used to wearing foam earplugs. These small noise isolators will help you fall asleep faster and block all unwanted sounds, and they are a proven game-changer.
  • Medications – the best way to fall asleep is a natural way. Sleep pills are not recommended for athletes, unless a doctor prescribes them, as they can have a negative effect on the athlete’s performance the next day.
  • Sleep tracking – many athletes take their sleep time seriously, so they use sleep tracking devices to get in-depth data-based information about their sleep routine and to see how they can enhance it.
  • Sleeping equipment – by this we mean the proper mattress and pillow selection. Athletes get injured easily, and they often experience sore muscles, aches in their back or legs, so they need their bed to be a real sleep and recovery station. Check our suggestions for best mattresses for athletes and see just how beneficial a mattress can be. When it comes to pillows, we suggest memory foam models as they provide the best conforming, and although body pillows are known as pregnancy pillows, they can work really well for athletes who like to snuggle and sleep like champions.
  • Food – healthy food is always recommended to athletes, and sometimes they need to follow a specific diet and nutrition to maintain their shape and good physique. However, athletes are humans after all, and they can have a cheat-meal occasionally, but they should pay attention to what they eat before going to bed. Check out our suggestions for the best foods for sleep.
  • Routine – just like athletes have a strict schedule of training and games which they need to follow, they should establish a sleep schedule and stick to it firmly. Waking up and going to bed at the same time every day, including weekends, will be very beneficial because our body loves routines. However, the timing is also important; athletes should go to bed before midnight, preferably around 10 PM. That way they can wake up naturally between 6 and 7 AM. They should not stare at TV or their phones at least 30 minutes before they fall asleep to avoid the effects of so-called ‘blue’ light. Instead, it is better to read a book. The more time athletes can segregate for sleep, the better will their performance on the field be.
  • Bedroom – this room should be used only for activities that are connected to sleep. Do not exercise in it, do not play video games or turn it into an office, just leave that one room to be a sleep sanctuary and a place in which you can isolate yourself from all the other things. Make sure that the room is dark enough with adequate sleeping temperature (67 Fahrenheit degrees is optimal), and use earplugs to block any unwanted noise. Remove any visible clocks including your smartphone or alarm clock. Sometimes we all wake up for a few seconds during the night, and usually, the first thing we do is reach for our phone or clock to check what time it is, and that puts additional pressure on us. When we see that there are only a few hours till our alarm, we start to worry and stress about not getting enough sleep, which just prolongs our struggle with falling back asleep. Turn away your alarm clock and don’t check the time during the night. If for some reason you are laying in bed for more than 30 minutes unable to fall asleep, get out of the bed, take a glass of water or read something for a short time and then try to sleep again.


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