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The Effects Of Sleep On Athletic Performance

Athletes work extremely hard to perfect their chosen sport, but small factors such as diet and sleep can have a big impact on an athlete’s ability to optimize their performance.

Orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist, David Geier, states that “getting enough sleep is crucial for athletic performance” and expresses that many studies have concluded that good sleep can improve an individual’s speed, accuracy, and reaction time.


How Much Sleep Is Enough?

The average human needs approximately 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. However, just as athletes need more calories to counteract the amount they burn, athletes also need more sleep to allow the body to repair and recover. Athletes should aim to get an extra hour or two sleep a day.

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How Does Sleep Affect Performance?

“Sleep is the time when your body repairs itself,” she says. “If we don’t get enough sleep, we don’t perform well.” – Felicia Stoler (exercise Physiologist and dietitian).

There is clear evidence that increasing the amount of sleep an athlete has many benefits to an athlete. A study by Stanford University indicated that basketball athletes that added 2 hours of sleep to their schedule per night were able to increase their speed by 5%, increase their free throws by 10% and had faster reflexes.

A similar study by the Stellenbosch University found that sleep plays a major role in the performance and recovery of an individual’s body after sport. The study provides insights into the role of sleep in physiological growth and repair, neuro-muscular performance, cognitive functioning and memory, emotional well-being, and immune function.

Many other studies have also found similar results – a quick google search can reveal a lot more evidence.


What Type Of Sleep Is Needed?

REM sleep is an important part of the sleep cycle as this is when your brain is most active and you body responds to this by increasing blood flow which in turn, induces healing and repair.

Serena Williams has stated in many interviews that she feels sleep is a major part of her success, especially REM sleep.

Lance Armstrong also ensures to get six to eight hours of sleep a night to improve his mood, performance, and concentration ability.


What Does Sleep Affect In An Athletes Life?

Sleep plays a part in and athletes:

  • Reaction times
  • Motivation
  • Stress regulation
  • Muscle recovery
  • Glucose metabolism
  • Sprint performance
  • Motor function
  • Focus
  • Injury risk
  • Weight
  • Sickness susceptibility
  • Memory
  • Learning ability

In recent years, the benefits of sleep to an athlete have become clearer and it has been proven that the quality and quantity of sleep can determine the result of game day.



  • Find a schedule that works for you! Ensure you go to bed and get up at the same time.
  • When travelling, ensure you allow time for your body to adjust and ensure you keep your regular sleep routine.
  • Avoid sleep medications unless they are prescribed
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed

The importance of sleep has been understated for many years. Sleep quality and quantity can be extremely detrimental for an athlete’s performance and recovery.

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