Sleep: Why It’s So Important for Athletes

Getting an adequate amount of sleep is an absolute necessity if you want to be at your peak performance level.  This is particularly true for athletes who not only need to be at their best, but whose bodies need to recover from either training or competition.  I typically set up a very strict sleep schedule, going to bed at approximately the same time every night and waking up at approximately the same time every morning.

It is a known fact that humans need eight hours of sleep every night.  So what does that mean for athletes, whose physical workload during a season is heavier than most.  If we are to follow what has been learned about world class athletes, we would be sleeping 8.75 hours a night, according to researchers, which is north of an hour more than the average person gets (7.5).  Several studies of college athletes at Stanford demonstrated remarkably better statistics when they attempted to sleep close to ten hours a night as opposed to getting less than eight hours of rest.  All of this is logical, as sleeping naturally helps our bodies heal and keeps us more alert and energetic.

I tend to sleep more during the season than in the offseason due to the more strenuous physical schedule.  When you are competing, your body goes through enough without having to constantly adjust the time it gets to rest.  On game days, I take a 45-minute nap after my teams’ pregame meal which allows me to feel completely rested and recharged in a relatively short amount of time and gives me an additional edge over my opponents.  Usually the busier we are, the more we need rest so we can be at our best.

Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing and this is certainly true when it comes to sleep.  Oversleeping can actually cause you to feel more sluggish than you would with less than adequate sleep.  One school of thought states that too much sleep is directly linked to cardiovascular disease and diabetes among other diseases and there are studies that caution people about the dangers of oversleeping, the rule of thumb should be to experiment a bit and let your body tell you what works the best.  I am not sure if there is enough evidence to support these studies, but I do know that if nine to ten hours of sleep makes you feel drowsy and not well-rested, your body is telling you all you need to know.

If you are healthy, Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is released by your brain into your bloodstream during the middle stages of your sleep and this hormone plays a vital role in repairing and recharging your body.  Sticking to a consistent sleep pattern will increase the presence of these hormones because your body will get used to releasing them at around the same time every night.  Sleep and exercise encourage the release of HGH and, logically, there is thought to be a strong correlation between getting the proper amount of sleep and superior athletic performance.  The less interrupted our rest is, the better we will function overall.

If you notice that you are consistently tired during the day despite getting adequate sleep, it may be due to your diet.  Eating sources of less than optimal carbohydrates can zap your energy level just as easily as a lack of sleep, yet diet is not usually suspected as the cause of energy shortages.  Common foods such as bread, pasta, and rice are often used as primary sources of carbohydrates.   Sometimes just substituting more sustaining types of carbohydrates in place of these foods can make a massive difference in energy level.

For most people, the more demanding that their schedule is, the less sleep they get.  Approaching sleep this way has a type of incomplete logic and is justified as by simply “not having enough time to sleep.”  In reality, not getting enough sleep does little but compromise the immune system lead to illness.  It’s important to remember that resting is important not only for your body, but your mind as well.


How to Sleep Like an Olympic Athlete

– Heather Hatfield


Can Good Sleep Improve Sports Performance?

– Matthew Edlund, M.D.




2 Responses to "Sleep: Why It’s So Important for Athletes"

  1. paul teller says:

    Highly descriptive article, I enjoyed that a lot. Perhaps there is part Two?

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