5 ways sleep can improve sports performance
When it comes to sports performance, physical conditioning and a healthy diet are essential for athletes. But did you know that sleep quality is just as crucial for boosting sporting performance?
Athletes are born competitive and will often do whatever it takes to win. They will put in more hours in the gym to stay in shape and meticulously watch their diet. However, the one thing that is often overlooked by most athletes, and is key to achieving sporting success, is getting the right amount of sleep.
Getting quality sleep is vital for sports performance; it fuels the body and brain with the energy required to function and provides the following benefits to boost athletic performance.
- Improved decision making
A lack of sleep can affect decision making. There are many studies which highlight that a lack of sleep can adversely affect your focus, memory, and ability to learn. Sleep deprivation can negatively impact the part of the brain that is responsible for decision making. Sufficient amounts of sleep help athletes to maintain their focus, strengthen memory and improve the ability to take in new information. Therefore, mental errors are reduced.
- Improved reaction times
During competitive events or matches, athletes can’t afford to lose concentration even for a split second. Doing so could result in costly mistakes that could cause them or their team to lose. The most prominent culprit to delayed reaction times is a lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation can result in fatigue and a lack of focus, but getting quality sleep results in improved reflexes and reaction times.
- Improved speed and accuracy
A study carried out by Stanford University on the men’s varsity basketball team investigated the impacts of sleep extension on sports performance, and found that basketball athletes who added 2 hours to their sleeping schedule had a 5% increase in their speed. Also, the accuracy of their free throws improved by 9%, while reflexes were much faster, and decreased fatigue and overall improvement in physical and mental health were experienced. It was clear that the amount and quality of sleep had a direct correlation to optimal sports performance. Similar benefits have also been found in other sports, including football.
- Reduced injury rates
A study found that athletes who slept on average less than 8 hours a night had a higher chance of injury. A lack of sleep doesn’t allow the body sufficient time to recover from the strain of sports activities. As a result, your body becomes prone to injury. It is therefore recommended to prioritize sleep to lower the risk of getting injured.
- Longer playing career
This is perhaps a surprising inclusion on the list, but did you know that getting enough sleep can actually help to prolong your playing career? A lack of sleep can impair sports performance, and research shows that long-term sleep deprivation and the resultant inability of your body to fully recover can potentially hinder athletic performance. This, in turn, can affect the longevity of your playing career. It’s simple; prioritizing sleep allows you to take full advantage of your sporting potential.
These benefits are substantial, but what seems as simple as a good night’s sleep can often be quite challenging to achieve.
5 tips for a good night’s sleep.
- Think about sleep in 90-minute cycles.
One 90-minute sleep cycle consists of 3 stages – light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. Most people require 4 or 5 sleep cycles. Deep sleep and REM sleep, in particular, are of great benefit to physical and mental health. If you don’t reach the deep sleep stage, waking up from light sleep can leave you feeling drowsy, and feeling like didn’t get enough sleep.
- Don’t hit the snooze button!
It is always tempting to try to get some extra sleep, but your body won’t thank you. Resist hitting the snooze button when your alarm goes off as you might fall back into a deep sleep for those extra minutes, and then feel very fatigued for any sporting activity. If you are still tired later in the day, a nap is always a right way to revive the body.
- Sleep Calculator
A sleep calculator is handy for calculating the time you need to go to sleep at to achieve, for example, 5 sleep cycles. If you wanted to wake up at 6:30am, you would need to go to sleep at 11pm, or 9:30pm if you tried to get an optimal 9 hours sleep to aid sports performance.
- Reduce intake of caffeine and alcohol
According to the Sleep Health Foundation, it is best to avoid caffeine and alcohol for at least 4 hours before bed as both can significantly affect your ability to sleep. Both stimulants cause you to sleep lighter and wake more frequently, not to mention cause you to need to go to the toilet during the night. Professional sports sleep coach Nick Littlehales also recommends no heavy meals at least 2 hours before sleep.
- Create a relaxing environment
Create a calming, peaceful environment to help you drift off into a deep slumber. Switch off blue light devices such as TVs, computers, and smartphones. The blue light emitted by their screens interferes with sleep as it affects the levels of melatonin, also known as the sleep hormone, produced, which regulates sleep cycles. It can affect your ability to reach the deep sleep stage so get an old-fashioned alarm clock if required.
Invest in a good quality mattress and pillow to provide sufficient support for your back and neck, as well as a suitable duvet and bed linen with breathable fabrics to help regulate body temperature and avoid overheating – which can disrupt sleep. It is also important to sleep in a cold room.
The study of sports science about elite athletes can be very technology focused as it attempts to discover the key to optimal sports performance, when in fact the correct solution is nothing advanced at all, but merely good sleep.
For the everyday athlete who perhaps is part of the local sports club and is trying to balance work, family and sporting life, it can be difficult to prioritize sleep, but these tips can make it that little bit easier.
by Ciara Doyle
Ciara Doyle is a sleep enthusiast who is passionate about the benefits of sleep for physical and mental health. She also has a love of yoga and healthy eating and enjoys trying out new recipes for family and friends.