How Sleep Affects Athletic Performance? – (According to Research)

Learning that plenty of rest and sleep can enhance your athletic performance won’t surprise you.

Whether you’re competing for a gold medal, running a marathon, or simply planning a hefty gym session the following morning, getting a good night’s sleep will be detrimental to how well you can perform.

I know all too well that feeling of turning up at the gym in the morning after a bad night’s sleep and being unable to lift the weight that I would typically do with ease, and it’s hugely frustrating and leaves me feeling deflated.

The reason why this happens after a restless night is that while you are sleeping, it gives your heart a chance to rest and recover, as well as allowing your muscle tissue to repair, therefore when we’ve had a difficult night’s sleep, your body hasn’t had the chance to heal.

For this guide, I gathered all the scientific research which explains precisely how sleeping is vital to athletes and how it can hinder their performance when they don’t get the necessary amount.

Sleep And Athletic Performance

Sleep And Athletic Performance

It’s common knowledge that sleeps quality and hours of sleep greatly impact your athletic performance, both physically and mentally.

Studies have shown how being educated in sleep hygiene will drastically improve an athlete’s ability to get a restorative night’s sleep, meaning that their performance the following day is positively impacted.

Another study has shown that athletes who increase their sleep to around nine hours per night also have improved performance and accuracy in competitive sports.

How Sleep Deprivation Can Affect Athletic Performance?

A lack of sleep can affect everyone, whether they are athletic or not. However, for those whose lives revolve around competing and exercising, it can drastically affect their day-to-day lives, and in some cases, their career, if they’re a professional athlete.

As well as affecting your body, such as your heart and muscle growth, it can also severely impact your mental health, which can begin to interfere with any sports or activities you participate in.

Below are some physical and cognitive risks that come with not getting the correct amount of sleep.

  • Exhaustion
  • Increased Risk of injury
  • Distraction
  • Lack of physical strength
  • Impaired vision
  • Lack of concentration
  • Risk of illness
  • Decreased accuracy

You can do some things to prepare for any athletic event by simply changing your habits or introducing new techniques to your sleep schedule.

Here is a list of convenient tips which will not only help you to get to sleep at night but that can also prevent you from waking up multiple times a night and waking up feeling tired, and yes, I have tried and tested all of these myself and can see a difference.

However, it’s important to remember that what works for me might not work for you. Also, these things take time, so don’t expect a miracle cure to happen overnight.

What You Can do to Improve Your Sleep For a Better Performance as an Athlete?

As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of tactics that you can use to improve not only your quality of sleep but also your mental well-being and general health. Let’s look at some of the most achievable techniques and find out how you can introduce them into your nightly routine.

1. Avoid Alcohol/Drugs

Avoid AlcoholDrugs

Aside from the obvious reasons you shouldn’t be, you shouldn’t be taking substance when competing or practicing athletics. Drinking alcohol or taking certain drugs can negatively impact sleep quality.

Using substances before bed can put your brain into a state of activity or cause you to crash into a deep sleep, meaning you skip vital stages of the sleep cycle.

The result is either being unable to get to sleep due to being overly stimulated or waking up throughout the night, known as a broken sleep.

2. Routine


A bedtime routine can significantly affect how fast you fall asleep at night. Your routine can be anything you like, which works for you as long as it’s relaxing and not too active.

For example, reading a book or a magazine, having a warm bath, or learning how to meditate in bed are all calming things that you can perform at nighttime which will help to let our bodies know that it’s time to wind down and go to sleep.

3. Don’t Exercise Before Bed

Don't Exercise Before Bed

When it’s your passion, I know it can be tempting to squeeze in some late-night exercise, especially when you’ve had a busy day or skipped training for whatever reason. However, although exercise is proven to aid sleep, doing it in the hours before you go to bed can be a hindrance.

Exercising raises your heart rate and increases your blood pressure, negatively impacting your sleep quality.

4. Take a Power Nap

Take a Power Nap

There is mixed information out there about the effect of power naps on your sleep. That’s because when power naps are taken incorrectly, such as too late in the day or for hours at a time, it can affect our sleep at night.

However, suppose you want to use a power nap to its full advantage. In that case, it’s recommended that 20-30 minutes is ample time to restore energy without keeping us awake later in the day. So, taking a short, purposeful power nap can significantly benefit your performance if you feel exhausted at midday.

5. Don’t Over Do It

Don't Over Do It

Regarding your training as an athlete, if you have an upcoming competition, it can be enticing to get some extra practice in. However, over-exerting yourself leads to exhaustion. The best thing you can do is stick to your usual training hours and don’t overdo it.

6. Get Up

Get Up

One thing many people make the mistake of doing is tossing and turning and huffing and puffing when they can’t get to sleep at night. This will never help you go to sleep. In fact, it will keep you awake and raise your anxiety levels.

The best thing you can do if you find yourself in this situation is to get out of bed. Do something that is going to make you feel relaxed. This could be anything you want, so long as it’s quiet, perhaps reading a book, practicing light stretches, or making a cup of herbal tea.

7. Avoid Screen Time

Avoid Screen Time

The blue light produced when you use electronics tricks our brains into thinking that it’s actually daytime and, therefore, time to wake up. Therefore, playing on your phone or chatting with a friend on facetime before falling asleep is counteractive to falling asleep.

Instead, try turning your devices off an hour or two before you get ready for bed.

Final Thoughts

So, as you can see, there are plenty of methods out there that you can practice if you’re a training athlete struggling to get the correct amount of sleep.

It’s important to remember that if you think your sleep is caused by a health condition or genuine sleep issue such as sleep apnea, you should seek advice from a medical professional before drastically changing your habits.

However, medical or not, the solutions I have advised you about above are things you can introduce into your general sleep routine without causing any other troubles.

Another thing to remember is that no matter which methods you try, it may take a couple of nights to get used to and may not work straight away, so stay persistent.

Lastly, I wanted to mention that when it comes to athletes, sleep is quite different from others. This is because athletes need to consider their sleep as much as they do their training to perform adequately. So, as I said before, you should get around 9 hours of sleep per night. For the average person, this is recommended at more like 7 or 8 hours.

Sarah Wagner

I'm Sarah Wagner, and I founded Sweet Island Dreams in 2022. It's a blog dedicated to helping people mental vacation virtually anytime they want. By providing information about the best sleep of your life, I help people drift away to paradise without ever having to leave their bed!