How Not Enough Sleep Affects Athletes' Daily Performance

How Not Enough Sleep Affects Athletes' Daily Performance


How Not Enough Sleep Affects Athletes' Daily Performance


It’s common knowledge that the average person requires a good night’s sleep to reach optimum health. Study after study has proven that a healthy sleep schedule allows for a sharper mind, increased energy, a healthier body, and more stability with emotions and mood. However, not every person is created equal and needs can vary across certain groups. 


Athletes are a different animal. They eat, sleep and breathe physical fitness and performance. As a result, their dietary and sleep needs will need to be adjusted accordingly. If you’re an athlete, you likely have your diet and exercise on lock. But, you may not be getting the quality of sleep that’s required to achieve your personal best. 


Sleep plays a vital role in the success of an elite athlete. Areas where sleep can improve include; reaction times, motor function, motivation, focus, stress regulation, muscle recovery, glycogen production, metabolism, memory, injury resilience, resisting illness, and weight stabilization. 


Most people require between 7 and 9 hours of sleep to function at the peak of their abilities. Athletes push these peaks and constantly strain their bodies above and beyond common average activity. Therefore, an elite athlete may need even more sleep daily to recover and function at their maximum efficiency. 


Exercise uses energy, depletes fluids, and breaks down muscle tissue. Being well hydrated and eating smart are only pieces of the puzzle for supporting the physical strain of training at an elite level. How athletes manage the recovery processes in sleep can also determine how quickly their bodies rebuild muscle mass and replenish vital nutrients.


The brain needs time to recover and restore itself just as much as the body does. Sleep sharpens mental acuity and ensures better concentration and more efficient learning and memory building. 


 A healthy sleep schedule will help maintain endurance, speed, and accuracy, as well as improve split second reaction time, strengthen critical decision making skills, and bolster strategic reasoning. 


Sleep contains many stages and processes and a lack of sleep can influence these in very detrimental ways, where as maintaining a consistent and ample sleep regimen will ensure maximum potential. 



Cortisol is one of the body’s key stress hormones, released as part of the fight-or-flight response. Cortisol diverts energy from less important functions in the body, such as the reproductive system, and instead focuses on breaking down tissue for fast energy and delivering it as a method of helping to ensure survival when threatened in many different ways. 


For a caveman fighting off an approaching tiger, this short burst of energy was very useful. Today, managing the wear and damage associated with these responses are important to lasting physical performance. 


Sleep loss can result in elevated cortisol levels the next evening and this can further hinder sleep, and thus further raise cortisol levels. Chronically elevated cortisol levels can lead to dulled mental acuity, memory impairment, and can trigger the body to break down more muscle and store more fat. 



Sleep serves to allow for brain energy homeostasis. Sleep serves to replenish brain energy stores that deplete during the day. Sleep deprivation can lower brain glycogen levels. Brain glycogen metabolism is vitally important in brain functions such as learning or memory consolidation. 



Your central nervous system triggers muscle contractions, reaction time, and pain response. If you lack sleep you won’t adequately replenish energy stores for your central nervous system and you can overload your body while pushing it through elite physical training. Insufficient sleep will cause you to become slower, weaker, and possibly even less coordinated as you train. 


Some stages in your sleep cycle increase blood flow to your muscles and aid in tissue repair and recovery. Short changing yourself on sleep will mean that you have less recovery time after strenuous training, can make you more susceptible to injury and can stifle muscle mass growth.


Without adequate sleep and restoration, your central nervous system stops recharging. You feel tired, unmotivated, and weak in your workouts. Maintaining optimum training efficiency should be on the mind of any serious athlete.


Hormone Production And Release

Some stages of the sleep cycle will produce and release important hormones into the body to aid in growth, strengthening, and recovery. Human growth hormone is released in sleep. In children and adolescents this hormone drives the growth process, but in adults it is still crucially important to muscle growth, tissue repair and body recovery. An elite athlete will require more recovery and more repair time and will want to encourage muscle growth. 


Critical Thinking And Reflex Response

Studies have shown that sleep quality can increase shooting accuracy and reflex response in basketball players. Research has shown direct results in improved performance of swimmers, tennis players, weightlifters, soccer players, and even golfers. 


Sleep deprivation has been shown to lower performance in strategically focused activities and sports professionals, such as basketball players, hockey players, and even chess players, poker players, and go players.  


An elite athlete has to consider every part of their existence and evaluate how to best manage their body and mind to achieve peak performance. Sleep can affect performance in so many ways. Any serious athlete should be treating their sleep health with as much careful consideration as what they eat and how they train physically. It’s important to note that sleep doesn’t just mean hitting a certain number of hours per night. Quality is just as important as quantity. The secret is finding a mattress fit for an athlete. You can find one on Considering the vital role that sleep can play in recovery and ensuring the best preparation for training, finding the right mattress should be a top priority for any athlete. 


A consistent and ample sleep period each day can ensure that you can train and perform faster, smarter, and stronger, and can bolster reflexes, critical analysis, split second reaction time, and explosive energy potential. When pushing your body beyond common limits, you may need a greater amount of recovery time. Your performance and potential will benefit greatly.

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