Effects of Sleep on Athletic Performance

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Athletes are constantly under pressure to perform at their peak. From the moment they wake up in the morning until the time they hit the showers at the end of the day, their performance is constantly being judged. Even if an athlete has been training hard for a long time, there is always a chance that they will be unable to keep up with their teammates or their personal bests. When athletes fail to perform, they can suffer from a variety of issues, ranging from anxiety to depression to burnout. Therefore, it is so important for them to get enough sleep. In this post, we describe the effects of sleep on athletic performance and the benefits of getting adequate rest.

Importance of Sleep

Sleep doesn’t get enough attention, even after being an essential function of the body. Diet and exercise have been seen as the two most important things for health and longevity. The three pillars of health are diet, exercise, and sleep, and argue that ignoring one causes the other two to suffer.

People who don’t get enough sleep may not perform as well in peak exercise and may crave junk food, which can lead to weight gain. Poor sleep and athletic performance can be caused by indiscretions on the part of the diet. We believe optimizing all three pillars is critical to overall health and recovery, and it’s a better strategy than relying on supplements or energy drinks to keep you energized when you need it most.

Effects of Sleep on Athletic Performance

Sleep is important for the health and well-being of both athletes and non-athletes. Everyone needs a good night’s sleep in order to function their best the next day.

Allowing your heart to rest allows it to repair its tissues. It can help your body recover after physical exertion. The changes in your heart rate and breathing throughout the night promote cardiovascular health as you progress through the stages of sleep.

Helping you recover from illness. When you sleep, your body makes hormones that help the immune system fight off infections. All of these restorative effects are important for athletes’ recovery and performance.

How Sleep Helps an Athlete’s Mental State. Everyone can benefit from a good night’s sleep to retain and consolidate their memories. Sleep helps form memories, and contributes to improved performance in the future when athletes practice or learn new skills. The pathways in the brain that allow you to learn and make memories can’t be formed if you don’t sleep.

It’s important for sleep to be important for cognitive processing. There is a decline in cognitive function associated with sleep loss. Athletes who play sports with high levels of cognitive function can be adversely affected by this.

Sleep is important for maintaining an athlete’s mental health, just as exercise is important for improving or maintaining mental health. Improving overall mood can be accomplished through quality sleep. Irritability and depression can be prevented with a good night’s sleep.

Sleep Inadequacy in Athlete

Athletes may need more sleep due to the typical intensive exercise regimen, as most adults need 7–9 h of sleep per night. Sleep deprivation has been associated with a variety of negative health effects including neurocognitive, metabolic, immune and cardiovascular dysfunction. It’s possible that sleep-deprived people have impaired brain function that could affect judgement and/or decision-making during athletic performance. Sleep deprivation has been associated with being overweight and having diabetes.

Sleep-deprived individuals are more likely to crave unhealthy foods and show impairments in glucose sensitivity, which may affect appetite, food intake, and protein synthesis. Growth hormones and cortisol are adversely affected by sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation can result in a range of issues, including impairments to cognitive performance, autonomic nervous system imbalance, and muscle regeneration, and can lead to slower/less accurate cognitive performance and altered pain perception. All of the pathways affected by poor sleep are relevant to athletic performance, from an athlete’s perspective.

Sleep deprivation, specifically in athletes, has been studied. The physical effects of sleep deprivation include decreased running performance, decreased muscle glycogen concentration, and reduced submaximal strength, as well as reduced tennis, serve accuracy, and time to exhaustion. Increased reaction time and confusion, decreased psychomotor functions, and a subjective feeling of energy and enthusiasm were some of the cognitive effects. Predictably, studies showed impairments with 24–36 h of sleep deprivation, and one studied 64 consecutive hours of sleep deprivation, however, many showed negative effects with just 2–4 h less sleep per night.

In some studies, gross motor functions, such as brief bouts of strength and power, were preserved, but in others, they were affected. In elite sports, cognitive functions including reaction time, judgment, and decision making are more important than physical functioning. This can be a crucial area in elite sports, where highly trained athletes are often considered similar to their physical ability, and high-level cognitive function may therefore play a crucial role in competition outcomes.

Effects of Sleep on Athletic Performance

How Can More Sleep Help Athletes?

There are many studies showing the effects of sleep deprivation on athletic performance.

Effects include:

  • Decreased glycogen synthesis
  • Slower muscle recovery
  • Increase the level of stress hormones, including cortisol
  • Changes in mood
  • Increased ratings of perceived exertion. 
  • Increased aerobic endurance

There have not been many studies looking at the effects of increased sleep. Increased sleep was associated with a faster sprinting speed and hitting accuracy in college tennis players, according to a study from 2009. Another showed that increasing the average number of hours per sleep for a group of basketball players from 6.5 per night to nearly 8.5 hours per night improved their free throw shooting by 11.4% and their three-point shooting by 13.7%. 

For everyone, exercise can help in achieving sleep. Regular exercisers report getting better quality sleep, according to the Sleep in America survey from the National Sleep Foundation. While those who exercise vigorously reported the best sleep quality, even light exercisers reported better sleep than people who don’t exercise at all. People who don’t exercise are at greater risk for sleep disorders. According to the poll, 42% of non-exercisers are at moderate risk for the disorder, compared to only 19% of vigorous exercisers.

Jet Lag and Sporting Performance

There isn’t much evidence that jet lag affects athletic performance directly. There are three main lines of evidence that support the rationale for the adjustment strategies recommended for sports persons crossing multiple time zones. First, the body clock influences sporting performance, hence an endogenous component; second, the observed negative effects while adjusting the body clock to the new time zone; including nocturnal sleep loss, daytime fatigue, poorer motivation, and poorer mental performance, which in turn can affect training and physical performance; and third, the findings of meta-analyses of win-loss records of basketball, hockey and American football teams traveling across time zones before matches.

Although limited to the level of association, these meta-analyses predictably show advantages, hence a better chance of winning, if the team plays at a time when the daytime is close to the peak core body temperature. Local afternoon or evening matches are preferable to morning, whereas morning or early afternoon matches are preferable to late afternoons or evenings: we know that teams traveling west for evening matches have a disadvantage. When the advice presented in online supplemental table 1 is delivered through a formal educational program to athletes, it works well in regards to preparation prior to, during, and after arrival at the destination to relieve the symptoms of jet lag.

Ways to Improve Sleep

Here are a few ways through which you can achieve a good night’s sleep:

  • When you don’t feel sleepy at night, do a quiet activity in a different area. 
  • It’s a good idea to have a sleeping space with little to no noise. You should not use your sleep environment for anything other than sleep.  
  • It’s a good idea to stay away from electronics in the hours before sleeping. Televisions, cell phones, and computers are included in this. The blue light emitted by these devices can affect your sleep patterns.
  • Taking a bath, meditating or reading can help you relax and get ready for sleep.  
  • It’s a good idea to avoid alcohol and caffeine before you go to sleep. There are beverages that can interrupt sleep or lead to more disturbed sleep.


Other habits especially important for athletes are to:

  • Don’t overexert yourself when you keep a consistent training schedule.  
  • If your athletic schedule is not consistent, you should avoid training and competing too early or late.
  • If you want to take naps, keep them brief. Naps should be taken no later than an hour.
  • Not only do mental stressors affect sleep, but they also affect performance.


After you exercise, your body needs to rest and repair itself. If you don’t allow your body to recover, you could be putting yourself at risk for injury.

Muscle pulls are one of the most common injuries that happen when you’re not recovering from exercise. Also, if you’re doing a lot of weight lifting, you could injure your shoulder.

The best way to tell if you’re getting enough sleep is by paying attention to how you feel. If you’re tired, then you probably aren’t getting enough sleep.


The longer you can go without sleeping, the more you’ll feel like you’re recovering, but the longer you can go without sleeping, the more you’ll have to recover. Sleep is critical to recovery, and it’s also important to remember that you don’t need to sleep to recover from an intense workout. The most important thing to remember is that sleep is not just for recovery. It’s also for growth and development.

If you want to know more about different sleep related disorder check out here.

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