Sleep Your Way to Better Athletic Performance

Athletes are always looking for ways to gain a competitive edge whether it be from extra practice, strength training or nutrition. One of the most neglected areas to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury is getting a good night’s sleep. There is a strong body of evidence that sleep significantly contributes to an athlete’s performance and success. Most current studies show that the majority of athletes do not get the recommended amount of sleep. This is most likely due to the number of obstacles that athletes face reducing the likelihood of obtaining proper sleep, such as training and competition schedules, travel, stress, academic demands, and over-training. 

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, adults require between 7-9 hours of sleep. Adolescents actually require additional sleep between 8-10 hours. It has been suggested that athletes may require more sleep than nonactive individuals to allow for adequate recovery and adaptation between bouts of exercise, perhaps requiring closer to 9 or 10 hours of sleep instead of the 7-9 hour general recommendation for adults.

There have been various studies demonstrating that poor sleep quality and duration effect things such endurance performance, sprint performance, reaction time, accuracy, and learning and executive function. In addition, sleep quality and duration lead to a higher risk of injury. A study by Milewski et al. found that middle school and high school athletes that slept less than 8 hours a night on average were 70% more likely to report injury than those sleeping 8 hours a night. 

There are several proposed strategies to help athletes get better quality of sleep. First, the athlete should be screened for disorders that affect sleep such as insomnia, sleep apnea and for the presence of mood disorders such as depression and excessive stress. It would be wise for athletes to keep a sleep journal to track how they are sleeping. One of the easiest changes to make to improve sleep is getting on a proper sleep schedule. This means going to bed at a consistent time each night. In addition, research shows that avoiding the use of cell phones, TV and other devices that emit blue light 1 hour before bed can help improve sleep. Lastly, athletes should only have caffeine and other stimulants in the morning.