Sports and Sleep: How a Bad Night’s Sleep Can Affect Sports Performance

Have you ever felt too tired to make it to the gym? It’s easy to let excuses set back your exercise routine, from a bad night’s sleep to a stressful day at work that leaves you feeling drained.

Sleep and sports performance are closely correlated, given that a good sleep routine is an important part of keeping your body – as well as your mind – in good shape, and a poor sleep routine is a major toll on your physical abilities.

From impacting upon your alertness and energy to affecting your body’s ability to turn important nutrients into new muscle tissue, lack of sleep has a wide variety of effects on your sporting performance.

Are you concerned about your sleep habits affecting your physical health? Read on to learn more about how a bad night’s sleep can affect your ability to stay in shape, play sports and stick to your workout routine.

The more active you are, the more sleep you may need

If you’re highly active, you’ve no doubt noticed that you need to consume a greater amount of calories than people who don’t exercise. The reason is simple; your body burns more calories throughout the day, and thus needs more fuel to function.

The more intensely and often you train, the more you’ll likely need to eat. Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps, who spends almost the entire day training in the pool, consumes 12,000 calories per day to keep his body fuelled and healthy.

It’s not just your caloric needs that increase when you’re highly active – the amount of sleep you need in order to recover from frequent exercise also increases for many athletes and highly active people.

Sports medicine expert David Geier, MD, believes that athletes need more sleep than the norm. Geier likens the sleep needs of athletes to the greater amount of calories athletes consume, stating that “when they’re in training, they need more sleep, too.”

How much extra sleep do athletes need? Since the average person needs to sleep for at least seven hours per night, and ideally somewhere in the range of seven to nine hours, athletes should add an additional hour to their nightly sleep schedule.

Some athletes, including many of the world’s best sportsmen and women, go beyond the extra one hour recommended by physicians. Roger Federer, for example, spends more than 10 hours per night beneath the covers, as does LeBron James.

Why do athletes need more sleep?

There are far more benefits to sleep than just extra energy. When your body sleeps, a huge range of important biological functions are carried out, from the repair and growth of muscle tissue to the recovery of your body’s central nervous system.

A primary function of sleep is to give your brain and body the energy it needs for a productive, healthy day. Research suggests this occurs due to the level of adenosine – an important neurotransmitter – declining in the brain during sleep.

As the level of adenosine in your brain decreases, your brain effectively “recharges” during the night, preparing you mentally for the coming day. This affects more than just your cognitive performance – it also affects alertness, strength and motor skills.

Sleep is also when your body repairs and rebuilds its muscle tissue. Hormones such as human growth hormone – an important hormone for repairing skin and muscle tissue – are released during sleep in order to help your body recover.

Without sleep, even the most intense and demanding training schedule can leave an athlete with little progress, since sleep is so essential for muscular growth, cognitive recovery and all-round alertness.

As for why athletes require more sleep, the reason is fairly simple: the harder your brain and body work during the day, the more time they need to recharge, recover and repair during the night.

How can you sleep for better sports performance?

Whether you’re a competitive athlete or just interested in optimizing your sports performance, improving your sleep habits is one of the best ways to enhance your physical abilities, become stronger and get better at your favourite sports.

From sleeping longer to increasing the quality of your sleep, there are a variety of ways to sleep for better sports performance. Some of the best ways to improve the quality of your sleep are listed below:

  • Avoid drinking coffee (or consuming other foods and beverages that contain caffeine) after noon. Afternoon or evening caffeine consumption can make it difficult to fall asleep, preventing you from meeting your sleep needs.

 

  • Hold yourself to a consistent, steady sleep routine. Set a bedtime and wake-up time and make sure you follow your routine. Over time, you’ll find it will become easier and easier to sleep on a consistent schedule.

 

  • If you train in the afternoon, avoid using pre-workout supplements. Many of the over-the-counter sports supplements sold in gyms and health stores are full of powerful stimulants that can prevent you from sleeping well.

 

  • Avoid using sleep medication, including hormonal sleep aids like melatonin or herbs such as valerian. Many of these products will help you fall asleep in just a few minutes, but can leave you feeling drowsy the next morning.

 

  • Try to make sure you finish all sports or health-related training at least two hours before your bedtime. Training late at night can make it difficult to fall asleep by your designated bedtime, preventing you from sleeping well.

Are your sleep habits affecting your athletic performance?

There’s far more to becoming a talented athlete than just training. From your diet to your sleep habits, a huge range of factors play a role in keeping your body fit, strong and healthy.

Whether you’re a gym addict or a competitive athlete interested in improving your physical performance, try improving your sleep routine. From better alertness to a stronger, faster body, the benefits of an extra hour or two of sleep are considerable.