Sleep is vital for everyone, but for athletes, it’s a crucial part of a successful sports career. Sleep improves an athlete's performance, alertness, and cognitive abilities. This article uncovers the relationship between sleep and athletic performance, its importance to athletes, and how athletes can improve the quality of their sleep.
Why is Sleep so Important for Athletes?
Besides obtaining good health and wellbeing, sleep rejuvenates and restores an athlete's energy throughout their sporting activities. Several studies show that an athlete who sleeps well has increased speed, accuracy, improved mood, and decreased fatigue during sports.
Quality sleep also allows an athlete's body and heart to rest, prompting cell growth and rejuvenation. In addition, when playing sports, an athlete's heart works faster to pump blood and supply oxygen throughout their body.
An athlete's heart rate goes up to about 180 bpm and 200 bpm while exercising, almost twice as fast as a normal adult's average resting heart rate. As a result, they need quality sleep to rest the heart, and promote cardiovascular health.
Sleep also prevents illnesses. The body releases hormones called cytokines produced during sleep, which boost its immunity, and fights infections and diseases. When athletes exercise, their bodies briefly experience weakened immunity, making them susceptible to infections. Given that sleeping promotes cell restoration and boosts immunity, it influences healing, and prevents illnesses among athletes.
Athletes also need sleep to store and refresh memories of the skills and practices they learn every day. According to scientists, the Random Eye Movement stage of sleep contributes to memory consolidation, enabling the brain to develop the pathways for learning and storing memories.
How Much Sleep do Elite Athletes Need?
High-performing athletes need a sleep duration of at least nine hours a day to restore their bodies and mental stability after strenuous exercises. That’s the normal sleep schedule for athletes. However, it may be impractical for many athletes to spend almost half of their day in bed, as they have numerous responsibilities.
On average, the sleep duration for most elite athletes is about eight hours of normal sleep, instead of the recommended nine to ten hours. To compensate for the missed sleep duration, these athletes spend about 30 minutes napping during the day. Studies show that daytime napping effectively improves sprint performance and alertness in athletes.
An athlete's lifestyle involves competitions, training sessions, travel programs, and other tight schedules that interfere with their sleep schedules. As a result, many athletes risk suffering the effects of sleep deprivation while trying to balance their busy schedules.
Many elite athletes work with coaches who understand how sleep duration impacts different athletes. For example, some athletes benefit more by waking up earlier and staying up until late in the night, while others perform better when training and competing in the afternoon than in the morning. With this knowledge, some coaches schedule effective training programs that align with the best interests of the athletes.
How Sleep Quality Impacts Athletic Performance
Ten hours of sleep may not be helpful to an athlete if they don't have good sleep quality during those hours. Sleep quality and the amount of sleep go hand in hand to ensure the athlete receives the benefits of sufficient rest in their athletic performances.
Here's how sleep quantity and quality impacts an athlete's performance.
Good sleep quantity and quality rejuvenates an athlete's body, and improves their mental stability. More specifically, a good amount of sleep reduces the chances of making mistakes while exercising or training, and increases the athlete's performance.
Sleep helps most athletes endure intense training and competitions. Quality sleep enables athletes to reach their full potential, and increases their motivation to concentrate on their athletic activities.
Faster Reaction Time
Since sleep improves mental and cognitive functions, athletes who have adequate sleep think better and react faster than those who have inadequate sleep. It also sharpens their decision-making ability while competing or exercising. For example, one study showed that basketball players who had enough nightly sleep had accurate free throws and three-point shots in a game.
Athletes feel more energetic and motivated to play when they sleep better and longer. Sleep extension reduces stress levels in athletes, which in turn improves their mood for their sports practice and competition.
Faster Injury Recovery
Sleep strengthens the immune system, and promotes faster cell repair and growth. In addition, because athletes often get injured, they need a good sleep quality for faster recovery, preventing illnesses, and reducing the risks of more injuries.
How Lack of Sleep can Hinder Sports Performance
Sleep deprivation, which refers to lack of sleep, greatly affects an athlete's performance. Here are some common signs of poor sleep habits in athletes.
Decreased Reaction Time and Accuracy
Reduced accuracy is more evident in athletes who play sports that require quick reflexes, such as lawn tennis and basketball. For example, a basketball player may lose free throws and miss passes due to poor sleep.
Athletes with sleep loss tend to get tired faster than those who have adequate sleep. For instance, as a result of poor sleep habits, athletes involved in sports that require running have reduced sprint performance because their bodies can't endure such intensive activities.
Slower Decision Making
Athletes who have less sleep than recommended, or have disturbed sleep, don't give their brains enough time to consolidate memory and sharpen their cognitive abilities. As a result, they may forget the new drills and skills they learned, and find it difficult to coordinate movements with their teammates.
Increased Risk of Injury
Sleep deprivation increases the risk of injuries and illnesses in athletes because their bodies lack enough time for cell and tissue repair that occurs during sleep. As a result of sleep loss, their bodies become weaker, and unable to sustain the intensity of their training and exercises.
Athletes are susceptible to viral and bacterial infections after strenuous exercise, due to a brief decline in their immunity. This period reverses when the athlete has enough sleep, allowing their body to moderate their breathing and heart rate, repair cells and tissues, and boost immunity.
Sleep deprivation causes daytime sleepiness and fatigue, limiting athletic performance. Although daytime napping is good for athletes, they need enough nightly sleep to remain active and focused during the day.
Good Sleep Habits for Athletes
Athletes have busy schedules that interfere with their sleep patterns. Not all athletes stay in bed for a sleep extension of nine to ten hours a day, given that they have to balance many activities such as traveling, training, competitions, and their personal responsibilities.
However, they can experience improved sleep quality with the following sleep tips:
Creating a Relaxing Bedtime Routine
A relaxing bedtime routine involves taking a warm bath, meditation, reading, and similar activities. These activities reduce tension and stress in the athlete's body and mind, making them fall asleep faster.
Avoiding Stimulants too Close to Bedtime
Caffeinated drinks such as coffee and other stimulants increase the body's alertness, and slow the urge to sleep. For instance, drinking coffee too close to bedtime may keep the athlete awake for long hours, resulting in sleep deprivation.
Avoid Using Blue Light Electronics During Bedtime
Smartphones, tablets, laptops, and TVs emit a type of light called blue light, which slows the production of the sleep hormone called melatonin. The blue light tricks the brain into believing that it is daytime, and distorts the body's circadian rhythm, a natural process that signals the brain to release melatonin. Therefore, avoiding these devices during bedtime enables the brain to activate sleep faster, solving the problem of lack of sleep.
Create a Conducive Sleep Environment
A conducive sleep environment should be temperature regulated, aerated, and well-lit to promote sleep. Noise, heat, and too much light lead to disturbed sleep, leading to poor sleep quality in athletes.
Sleep on a Comfortable Mattress
The quality of a mattress determines the sleep quality an athlete gets. An athlete needs a comfortable mattress to support their body, cushion painful parts, and align the spine. A good mattress also regulates the athlete's body temperature to keep them cool all night, and reduce sleep disruptions.
If you're an athlete, overtraining only strains the muscles, and makes your body too tired and weak, leading to stress and injuries. Instead, be consistent in following a regular training routine.
Stress contributes to sleep deprivation, which affects athletic performance. This proves why mental health is crucial for an athlete's success.
How Athletes can Reduce the Effects of Jet Lag
Athletes who travel over different time zones for competitions experience jet lag, which affects their performances. These time zones distort their circadian rhythm, a natural process that controls their sleepiness and alertness. As a result, athletes become too tired, weak, sleepy, and unable to perform their best.
Here are some tips for athletes to combat the effects of jet lag:
- Get sufficient sleep before traveling to avoid sleepiness
- sleep through the flight to compensate for lost sleep
- stay hydrated to avoid losing energy, and take sleep medication as prescribed by your doctor
- adjust your regular sleep schedule to suit the time zone in your destination to avoid staying up all night
- prepare a conducive sleep environment during your flight by using earplugs, eye masks, pillows, and covers to reduce distractions while sleeping through your flights
Do Athletes Need More Sleep?
Generally, athletes need more sleep than the average person. This is because sleep has a lot of benefits to an athlete, such as consolidating memory, rejuvenating energy, repairing cells and tissues, and improving alertness. The National Sleep Foundation reports that student athletes need at least 9 hours of sleep.
Do Young Athletes Need More Sleep than Adult Athletes?
Current sports medicine recommends ten hours of sleep to young athletes, and seven to nine hours to adult athletes. However, it is important to note that all athletes need enough sleep to perform their best, and improve their mental health, regardless of their age.
Is Exercising Before Bed Good for Athletes?
Exercising enables the body to attain deep sleep, which is highly beneficial for athletes. However, exercising too close to bedtime isn't a good idea. This is because it takes time for the heart rate to drop to normal after exercise, making it more difficult to fall asleep immediately after a heavy workout session.
Key Features of the Best Mattresses for the Ultimate Athletic Performance
Pro athletes should sleep for at least 8 hours a day, regardless of how busy their schedules are. They should also invest in high-quality bedding customized to maximize their comfort. Here are some of the features that pro athletes look for in a good quality mattress:
To obtain deep sleep and avoid sleep disturbances, pro athletes sleep on mattresses that are good at regulating body temperature to keep them cool all night, and reduce sleep disruptions caused by nighttime sweating.
Latex mattresses are great at temperature regulation, as they are naturally breathable, allowing air to flow freely around a sleeper's body, and promoting sleep extension. A good example of such a mattress is the Botanical Bliss Latex Mattress made using certified organic latex. This mattress is highly recommended by chiropractors and orthopedists, making it ideal for athletes.
Support and Cushioning
A supportive mattress promotes proper spine alignment, and gently cradles the lower back for better sleep. In addition, it adequately cushions the pressure points to reduce pain, and promote deep sleep. These features are vital when selecting the ideal mattress for an athlete, given that they engage in intense physical activities.
PlushBeds offer a wide range of latex and hybrid mattresses best known for their extraordinary support and responsiveness.
Contrary to popular belief, athletes don't need extra-firm mattresses to support their bodies. Instead, most athletes feel comfortable on medium-firm mattresses that provide a good balance between support and cushioning.
Athletes need mattresses that evenly distribute their body weight to avoid exerting more pressure on one part of the body than the other, which causes sleep disturbances. Other than promoting better sleep, pressure-relieving mattresses are also good for an athlete's joints, hips, shoulders, and neck.
Memory foam mattresses are great at pressure relief and cushioning, although they are also associated with sleeping hot. But that's not something you need to worry about with PlushBeds' Cool Bliss and Ocean Mist luxurious memory foam mattresses. These mattresses provide sleepers with optimum pressure relief and cooling effect all night long.
Best PlushBeds Bedding for Proper Sleep and Improved Athletic Performance
PlushBeds is a one-stop online store for everything you need to experience better sleep. Besides mattresses, you can select from the wide range of pillows designed to add comfort for a sleeper. For example, this Shoulder-Zoned Dough and Lavender Pillow is uniquely designed to contour around your head, neck, and shoulders. In addition, it is infused with natural lavender oil that promotes relaxation.
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