Why is Sleep Important for Athletes?

I’ve had to remind a few athletes about the importance of sleep recently, and I think we sometimes forget just how much sleep does for us.

The Benefits of Sleep for Athletes (and everyone!)

Sleep Improves Physical Performance

Sleep is crucial for muscle recovery, reaction time, and injury prevention in athletes. Getting enough sleep has been also shown to improve sprint speed and shooting accuracy in collegiate basketball players (Mah et al., 2011).

Sleep Improves Cognitive Function

Sleep improves memory, learning & cognitive function (if you’re in a sport with high cognitive demands, keep this in mind!) (Maquet, 2001). Sleep has also been shown to improve creativity & problem-solving skills, as well as the ability to think abstractly. (Cai et al., 2009)

Sleep Improves Mood

Sleep is critical for regulating emotions and reducing the risk of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. (Baglioni et al., 2016).

Sleep Boosts Immune System Function

Sleep is essential for the production of cytokines, which are proteins that regulate immune function and help the body fight infections. (Opp & Krueger, 2015).

How much sleep does an athlete need?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep per night for adults. MORE for children and teenagers. But this is just for the general population.

There is evidence suggesting that athletes need more sleep than non-athletes.

Studies show that sleep extension can improve athletic performance, and that athletes tend to have different sleep patterns and needs compared to non-athletes (Mah et al., 2011; Lastella et al., 2015; Gupta et al., 2017). However, it is important to note that individual variability exists and each athlete’s sleep needs may differ based on their sport, training load, and other individual factors

So in general, 7 hours is the MINIMUM recommendation for athletes. You’ll likely need more, especially if you want to function at your best and recover well.

How much sleep does a youth athlete need?

One big factor that is often overlooked for youth athletes is that teenagers tend to have a later “chronotype” – that is they tend to naturally get sleepier later due to their biological clock being different to an adults (Crowley et al., 2018; Carskadon et al., 1993; Carskadon et al., 2004; Roenneberg et al., 2003).

Teenagers’ tendencies towards a later chronotype is due in part to changes in the timing of the release of the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle.

Because of these chronotype differences, many teenagers experience sleep deprivation as a result of having to wake up early for school or training – their later chronotype can make it much harder to fall asleep and stay asleep earlier.

Other Benefits of Sleep

Learn more about athlete performance

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