Sleep For Athletes – You treat your body like a temple. You eat right, work out regularly, and even practice mindful meditation. Here’s the thing: if your sleep habits aren’t right, then you could seriously hinder yourself on the court, in the gym, or on the field. This is why sleep for athletes is so important. It turns out that sleep loss can be as bad for your training as drinking too much, and is a much more pervasive problem in the US.
According to a recent study, over 60 million Americans will suffer from insomnia. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. With phones, tablets, and computers all taking big jumps forward in their ability to distract us and keep us awake, it’s no wonder that sleep disturbances are at an all-time high.
You don’t have to be an Olympian or a professional athlete to feel the benefits of a good night’s rest either, plenty of weekend warriors are getting hip to the buzz off of making sleep a part of your regular training. So whether you’re looking to take that first step into fitness OR are an experienced athlete looking to get that last performance boost, let us show you why and how you can get the sleep time for elite athletes that your body craves.
Sleep For Athletes – How Does Sleep Affect Your Workout?
Athletes and sleep are intrinsically linked because of how training and recovery work. Basically, sleep and an athlete’s performance feeds off each other. Have you ever suffered from insomnia but cured it by working out more? Exercise can release tension, increase endorphins, and make good sleep easier to get. So how about the other way? How does sleep affect your workout?
In two words: a lot. In a recent sleep study of Stanford University’s Men’s and Women’s swim teams, athletes and sleep had an interesting corollary. These swimmers were required to extend their sleep to ten hours per day for seven weeks. It was eye-opening. These student-athletes swam faster, reacted stronger off the blocks, and even increased their kick strokes by 5.0 kicks in the 15-meter sprint. The study’s lead author, Cheri Mah was encouraged and excited by the more general implications of the results of this study on sleep and athletic performance. This eventually led Mah accepting a job as a sleep specialist for the Golden State Warriors.
“These results begin to elucidate the importance of sleep on athletic performance and, more specifically, how sleep is a significant factor in achieving peak athletic performance,” says Mah. “While this study focuses specifically on collegiate swimmers, it agrees with data from my other studies of different sports and suggests that athletes across all sports can greatly benefit from extra sleep and gain the additional competitive edge to perform at their highest level.”
Sleep For Athletes – The Link Between Human Growth Hormone, Sleep, and Athletic Performance
Part of the reason that sleep and athletic performance are so intrinsically linked may be because this is the time when human growth hormone is released. Responsible for muscle growth, repair, bone building, and fat burning, growth hormone is crucial in athletic recovery.
Getting more deep REM sleep allows your body the opportunity to produce the correct amount of this enzyme, and receive those health benefits. It allows your body to mend and repair itself after exertion, something crucial to the success of any athletic performance.
In her study, Mah found that many athletes achieved new personal bests and broke long-standing records while participating in her sleep study — exactly because of the extended time sleeping, and because of the higher quality of sleep. While it’s not a guarantee of results, but it does bode well for your performance if you’re giving yourself enough time in bed.
Sleep For Athletes – More Sleep Can Lead to a Longer Prime and Playing Career
One reason sleep for athletes is so important is that it can extend your prime playing years longer — simply through its effects on fatigue and decision making. A recent study of performance and career longevity in major league baseball players found that those who slept more struck out less, and were able to demonstrate better judgment during their at-bats.
It also showed that those players who scored higher on the Epworth Sleepiness Scale were significantly more likely to be in the league for multiple years than those who had insufficient sleep.
While you might not be a pro, it could still mean that getting extra shut-eye will help keep you in the win columns for your pickup games — even against young athletes. Athletes and sleep can work together to create a winning combo and extend your prime past less-slept competition.
Sleep For Athletes – The Negative Consequences Of Reduced Sleep
As with anything, it’s not just about the positives of getting proper sleep, but also about limiting the negative effects lack of sleep can have when we explore the relationship between sleep and athletes. Not getting enough sleep time can hurt your circadian rhythm, your body’s natural alarm clock.
This, in turn, can lead to poor sleep quality and never reaching deeper, more restful stages of sleep (like REM) where many of the cognitive functions of the brain are refreshed and repaired. Having an emphasis on sleep for athletes is so important because it keeps their body from running in the red, something that scientists call, “sleep debt. This can be super detrimental not only to their training but to their life in general. It’s linked to anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses.
“Not getting enough sleep doesn’t only make you tired the next day,” says David Geir an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine expert. “It has a big impact on what’s happening inside your body…Getting enough sleep is crucial for athletic performance.”
Sleep For Athletes – Better Sleep Reduces Injury And Improves Overall Health
This is especially true of student-athletes that are still developing and need extra sleep to recharge and refresh their growing bodies. Not doing so can have disastrous results. A UCLA study showed that sports-related injuries for student-athletes who slept less than six hours a night were significantly higher than those who didn’t.
There are a few reasons for this. First, cognitive function is a huge part of success on the field and avoiding injury. When you sleep less, your reaction times are slower, which can, in turn, lead to greater injury risk on the field. Second, when you sleep less you hamper your body’s immune system. When you’re sick more often, not only is training less effective, it also limits the time that you have on the field.
Third, as previously mentioned, your deep sleep cycles is when your body is able to regenerate cells that can be worn out or damaged during the intense periods of activities during workouts, games, and training. If you don’t sleep well for an extended period of time, or if you experience poor sleep quality, those small nagging injuries can lead to bigger problems. That’s why sleep for athletes is so crucial to any training regimen. It’s not just enough to work out your body, it needs time to rest and rejuvenate itself too. It needs to build itself back up.
Sleep For Athletes – How To Use Sleep To Improve Sports Performance
Ideally, athletes and sleep should have a healthy relationship. That means going to bed early, on time, and consistently. Like any part of your training, consistency is key to getting the best results over a long period of time. Make sure that you limit the use of blue light devices (phones, tablets, computers) to at least an hour before bed to make sure that you’re getting the deep, restful sleep you need.
Experiment with what works for you, if you can sleep nine or ten hours in one go, then that’s great, but don’t be afraid to experiment with naps. Many athletes use naps to augment their good sleep — especially on game days. Taking a quick 30-minute nap before your game or training can give your body just the cognitive and physical boost it needs to hit peak performance.
As we said, there is no one-size-fits-all for sleep, but a good way to tell is if you’re waking up refreshed, alert, and well-rested at the same time every day without an alarm. Give yourself the edge that you’ve been missing. It’s so obvious that the link between athletes and sleep is deep, valuable, and best of all — easily attainable. Make your dreams of glory a reality, you put in the work, now rest up, you’ve got this.
Sleep For Athletes FAQs
Sleep For Athletes Resources
 Can’t Sleep? Neither can 60 Million Americans; Talk of the Nation, 2008.
 Ongoing Study Continues to Show that Extra Sleep Improves Athletic Performance; Kathleen Mccan, 2010.
 Studies Link Fatigue and Sleep to MLB Performance and Career Longevity; National Sleep Foundation, 2014.
 Can sleep improve Athletic Performance?; R. Morgan Griffin, 2014.
 UCLA scientists will Monitor Students for Biology of Concussions; Elaine Schmidt, 2015.
 Faster, Stronger, Longer: Olympians Live Longer than the Rest of Us; Alexandra Sifferlin, December 14, 2012.