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The Importance of Sleep for Athletes

The Importance of Sleep for Athletes 1

Sleep is important for everyone, especially for athletes. They need to recuperate their energy and recharge before exerting themselves with a sport. It is always recommended that everyone gets a minimum of eight hours of sleep per night. This 7 to 9 hour range just as important for sports as having a high-calorie content. So if you are wondering if an athlete should get sufficient sleep, then the answer is yes. By overexerting yourself with a sport, you are in need of time to refresh.

With that said, there is also research that suggests that you do not need 8 hours, but a more optimal time would 6.5 hours. I don’t know about that, but I do know that once our body’s get adjusted to a schedule then that means we get used to it. I would be staying up late each night for weeks, then I would be more adjusted to less sleep in the morning.

While there are a few things that athletes should do to improve their sleep, these same changes can benefit anyone. The main goals are to allow the body to rest, replenish, and provide enough energy for the next day. It shouldn’t be thought of as sleeping for athletes but for elite athletes. You want every advantage you can get for your athletics.

Sleeping for athletes is important for each one. Online I found most of the research was only focused on the elite athletes.

From Segen’s Medical Dictionary “Elite Athlete – A person who is currently or has previously competed as a varsity player (individual or team), a professional player or a national or international level player. Elite athletes are at increased risk of injury”

I do not think that only elite athletes should focus on good sleeping habits. Each person can benefit from a good night’s sleep, so why shouldn’t we? Your sleep may be monitored in several different ways. You may be given or are at least familiar with an athlete sleep questionnaire.

This questionnaire will ask you questions such as:

  • Rating if they take afternoon naps
  • If they use stimulants
  • If they consume alcohol
  • Go to bed thirsty
  • If they wake at night to go to the bathroom
  • What type of environment they sleep in

Benefits of sleep are things like, it helps reduce fat if you sleep well you consume fewer calories for every hour of sound sleep. While sleeping you are breaking down the calories from the previous day as well as from your reserves. If you are athletic, then you are going to be concerned with maximizing your sleep for repair and performance.

How much do they need? Athletes will need the same 8 hours of sleep per night, just like you and me. That doesn’t mean that it I am the final say on this. If someone was used to 8 hours a night and then all of a sudden they got less, then the body isn’t used to that and they will suffer for it the next day.


Like all things, they are best in moderation. What happens if an athlete sleeps too much? The process is the same for non-athletic people but also just as important. Some suggest that athletes should get up to 10 hours of sleep. I am not sure that I would recommend this.

What about if they do not get enough sleep? Research has shown that too much sleep can have negative effects on neurotransmitters, as well as pain, headaches, diabetes, weight gain, heart disease, and depression.

Some benefits of a good night sleep for athletes is concentration. The mind is able to process the information from the day before and retain memories.

Performance gains can be achieved with sleep. If you are into sport and are not well rested then there can be issues with your muscle and brain activity. You will not be as coordinated, and your reflexes will not be as acute.

By getting a full night’s sleep you will be at less risk for heart disease. You will be able to repair blood vessels in your muscles. This will also make you have lower calories intake and process, which means less weight and more muscle. If you have high blood pressure concerns then sleep can help with the symptoms leading to heart attack and also diabetes.

You are at risk of an altered metabolism if you do not have a proper sleep pattern. The risk of not being able to metabolize glucose correctly. You will be unable to synthesize hormones or repair cellular tissues.

Sleep is closely related to your mood. Without proper rest, you can be irritable. For athletes especially this means that you can become emotional easily. Lack of sleep can lead to mental illness, as well as attention issues.

Other than performance, I would say that Energy Recovery is going to be the most important factor for sleeping athletes. You want all the energy required to play at your peak performance. So really the two go hand in hand, you cannot be at your peak without proper rest.

The muscles are regenerated at a faster rate with sleep as compared to without it. This is accomplished by better blood flow to your muscles. There is less energy used during this time, allowing for the muscles to relax. This is also the best time for muscle growth. It has been shown if you eat dairy products before bed then you can get pretty good muscle gains.

Atonia or Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is where you are in such an extremely relaxed state that you are dreaming. This is the proper circadian rhythm that everyone should be shooting for. It is a 5 step cycle of sleep where we go in and out of deep slumber. REM is good because it is where we are in a dream state, the body is fully relaxed. Blood flow is most optimal in this state, and muscle repair is quick.

While REM is the sleep pattern you want to strive for, that isn’t the only option available. It is understood that our normal 8 hours a night sleeping pattern only came about after the industrial revolution. Prior to that, we would sleep in shorter periods, at different times of the day. There are several different forms of this, such as Polyphasic or Biphasic sleep. I personally wouldn’t attempt to do these. They are not easy to keep scheduled, and if your sleep pattern falls during your sport, then you will be really tired and fatigued.

The Importance of Sleep for Athletes 2


So what improvements or tips can you implement in order to get a better nights sleep? Really the best options for athletes are going to be the same for everyone. Are there any types of sleep aids for athletes? Well, let’s take a look at what could help.

Like I stated above it is best to go with the normal 8 hours sleep period because it is easy to schedule. This type of sleep pattern is not interfering with any other activity since it is done in the middle of the night. I wouldn’t recommend changing your sleep pattern during athletics. If you start messing with this then you may end up hurting yourself or underperforming.

So sticking to the schedule is important. What about if you happen to go to bed early? You might think this is a good option, who don’t want to be early? I wouldn’t recommend this to athletes, any amount of change in their routine can cause major issues. I know this from experience. Sometimes I may decide to go to bed an hour earlier if I do I find myself waking up without any energy. I am drained all because of that extra hour of sleep I got. This doesn’t make sense, does it? It is all related to the REM sleep. This is a specific pattern, if it is broken then you will not be performing at your best.

If you are experiencing back pain from your sports, then you may want to try a different mattress. I like to suggest to everyone this Green Tea Memory Foam mattress. There are also other options such as a Japanese Futon. This is a well-known option for back pain sufferers. It is a mattress without any springs. That is the main benefit of the memory foam as well, it has an even distribution of the whole body.

Along the same line as the mattress, you may need to adjust your pillow as well. I strictly use a down feather pillow. The way it can be formed and it keeps its shape makes it ideal for me. While I sleep on a foam mattress, I wouldn’t be able to use a memory foam pillow.

There are specific things for pillows that you would need to look out for, such as:

  • Firmness
  • Thickness
  • Coolness
  • Material

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBO) can be useful for athletes as well. The Hyperbaric chamber will provide elevated levels of oxygen, giving the body a 100% oxygen environment. Exposed wounds will heal faster, and the oxygen blood levels will be increased, allowing for quicker healing of muscles. The bloods hemoglobin and plasma are increased with these high levels of oxygen. These chambers appear as a tent the length of the body that will zip up shut and it becomes pressurized.

Sleeping in oxygen tents is a similar idea to the Hyperbaric Chamber. The main difference is that it is not pressurized but only sealed. This can be a more practical way of sleeping for most athletes as it will cover your bed. It can also be used for conditioning for higher elevations with less oxygen.

Nutritional Supplement is a category that hasn’t been studied much. Sure there are many supplements for increasing athletic performance, but not much is known about the effects on sleep. One that is common to take in assisting sleep is melatonin. This mimics a natural process of our bodies and works great for sleeping. The issue is it may work too well and you will have issues performing. Melatonin can also reduce the free radicals while you work out. So this just shows that not all things can have a negative effect, but they definitely need to be studied further.

Light can play a big factor in how a person sleeps. Now I know people can sleep in lighted conditions, I used to take naps in between classes at school. The thing is if we are to try and get a sound night’s sleep then we must eliminate all light sources. In particular, you want to get rid of the blue lights. Warm lights are better but no blue. This includes your phone. There are apps for your phone that will provide a warm ‘shade’ on your screen.

Just like light, the temperature is an easy way to adjust your sleeping environment. I often times will sleep without any covers, whereas my wife will keep them on. I like it to be colder in the bedroom. This is also the considered norm for the bedroom to remain cooler for better sleep. If the room is too warm then it is sweaty and uncomfortable.

This last one should be obvious but that isn’t always the case. Sound. There should be no audible distractions in your room. This can music, a tv, or even an appliance. For the best sleep, you want near silence. A bit of white noise is helpful for some people.


If you do not have a sleep schedule or are not properly training your body to sleep then it can be hard to fall asleep when you need to. Thankfully it is easy to recognize the things that can cause sleep irritation.

Light – I recommend if you are going to use light around bedtime then you need to use a warm or orange-hued light. I don’t mean an orange bulb from Halloween, but instead, one that is in the orange light spectrum as opposed to blues. You can use dimmers, timers, and light blocking curtains to fight off light.

Phones – Stay away from your phone’s screen when it is bedtime. This is a sure way to keep you awake. The blue light is the culprit, it prevents our body’s from producing Melatonin which helps us sleep.

Temperature – As I explained above, you want to regulate your bedroom temperature and keep it on the cooler side. You can use a programmable thermostat for this purpose. You can always put on an extra blanket if you feel too cool.

Noise – You want a balance here. Some people cannot sleep without white noise. Cars passing, fan spinning, or a machine making noise. It is possible that you live in the city where you will be distracted by everyday life, the elevator, the slamming doors, the footsteps walking in the hall outside your door.

Uncomfortable Mattress – Make sure that you are sleeping on a mattress that is the proper size. I would also suggest using hypoallergenic pillows and sheets. This will make it so that you are waking up refreshed and not congested.

Stress – I fall victim to this one myself. If I am too stressed in life I find it hard to sleep. I lay there in bed thinking about the issues at hand and how to solve them. It is hard for me to push those thoughts out of my mind and just go to sleep.

Athletes Foot – This can be a common irritant. The constant itching can keep anyone awake. I would probably use some type of cooling medication for athlete’s foot in order to get some rest.

Snooze or Not to Snooze? – That is the question. I am not sure how it is a question. I personally do not have a problem with waking to my alarm. I especially would not hit the snooze button when I know that I have a big day ahead.

Check out this video from ATHLEAN-X™ on YouTube, this is a nice quick video explaining 8 of the common habits that are ‘killing’ your gains. It has some good points about energy use and regeneration.


Sleep is important for everyone especially athletes. I would suggest that you take it very serious when you are involved in sports. A good night’s sleep can mean the difference of a successful game or not.

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