How to Sleep Like a Champion: The Science of Sleep and Athletic Performance
How to Use Sleep For Your Athletic Performance
As an athlete, you need to constantly find new ways to optimise your routine - but there’s one secret, powerful weapon to success: sleep.
Read our ultimate guide to start sleeping like a champion!
More potent than any training, sleep is the secret to enhanced athletic performance. The pros believe athletes should sleep an hour more than the average person. Here’s why.
There's a lot of science to back the number of hours an athlete needs to perform at their best. Of course, if it were that easy, everyone would do it, and we’d all be running like Usain Bolt.
Sleep disturbances, sleep disorders, stress, anxiety and even poor diet are all the enemies of sleep—even for the most experienced sportspeople.
Let's delve into the science of sleeping, athleticism - and what it means to sleep like a champion!
Why is Sleep Important For Athletic Performance?
Sleep affects athletic performance in many areas, such as speed, accuracy, reaction time, endurance, strength and injury risk.
Studies show when you sleep enough, you excel at activities like sprinting, shooting, dribbling and serving.
It allows your heart to rest, your cells and tissue to repair, and your immune system to fight infections. It also helps you form memories, process information and regulate your moods.
How Many Hours Should an Athlete Sleep?
The correct number of sleeping hours depends on age, training schedule, competition schedule, travel schedule and individual preferences.
However, a general recommendation is to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night and to avoid sleeping fewer than 6 or more than 10 hours regularly.
How Does Sleep Deprivation Affect Athletes?
Sleep deprivation has crippling effects on an athlete’s performance, greatly hindering their ability to perform at their peak.
Reduced Alertness, Concentration and Reaction Time
Sleep deprivation can impair your ability to focus, process information and respond quickly to stimuli.
This can affect the performance of athletes who need to make split-second decisions, such as football, tennis or basketball players.
Decreased Endurance, Strength and Power
A lack of sleep can reduce the energy available for physical activity and lower the threshold for fatigue.
This can affect the performance of athletes who need to sustain high-intensity efforts, such as runners, cyclists or swimmers.
Impaired Recovery and Adaptation
Poor sleeping habits can interfere with the processes that help the body heal and grow after exercise, such as muscle repair, tissue growth and hormone secretion.
This can affect the performance of athletes who need to recover from training or competition and adapt to increased stress or workload.
Increased Risk of Illness, Injury and Overtraining
Reduced sleep weakens the immune system and makes it more susceptible to inflammation and infections. You'll also have a higher chance of injuries because coordinating and keeping your balance will be harder.
You can combat this to a degree by eating right and taking vitamins and supplements, but you still need to work on getting the right amount of sleep.
Magnesium helps to reduce anxiety and also increases the calming neurotransmitter GABA, so it’s an excellent way to supplement your sleep cycle.
A lack of sleep can also lead to overtraining syndrome, chronic fatigue and reduced performance caused by excessive training without adequate rest.
Can Oversleeping Harm Athletes?
Too much of a good thing can be bad—and oversleeping is proof of this. Oversleeping can negatively affect an athlete's performance in multiple ways.
Increased Inflammation and Pain
Sleeping more than 10 hours per night can increase inflammatory markers in the blood, worsening chronic pain.
Impaired Glucose Metabolism and Insulin Resistance
Sleeping too much can affect how the body processes glucose and responds to insulin, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Altered Circadian Rhythms and Melatonin Production
Oversleeping can disrupt the natural cycles of light and dark that regulate the body's internal clock and hormone levels. You'll miss out on quality sleep, and your mood and energy levels will be all over the place.
Reduced Motivation and Mental Alertness
Too many hours of sleep can make an athlete feel groggy, sluggish and less motivated to exercise or compete. It can also impair cognitive functions such as memory, attention and decision-making.
Therefore, athletes must find their optimal sleep duration and adhere to a regular sleep schedule.
How Do You Deal With Performance Anxiety?
Performance anxiety is a common phenomenon that affects many athletes, especially before a big competition, tournament or match.
It’s a type of anxiety that involves fear of failure, negative self-talk and a loss of confidence. It also has physical symptoms such as nervousness, sweating, trembling and increased heart rate.
The science behind performance anxiety is related to the stress response, also known as fight-or-flight.
Using sports psychology to manage your performance anxiety is always better than isolating yourself from the event. Let’s look at a few ways to combat it.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
Progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, meditation and biofeedback can help you calm your mind and body before and during a competition.
They can lower your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension and cortisol levels. They can also increase blood flow, oxygen delivery and endorphin levels.
Supplements like Apigenin can also help you to sleep. Apigenin is a natural compound found in chamomile, parsley, celery and grapefruit plants. It reduces your cortisol levels and allows you to sleep more peacefully.
Challenge Your Negative Thoughts
Negative thoughts such as "I'm not good enough", "I'm going to fail” or "Everyone is watching me" can fuel your performance anxiety and undermine your confidence.
You can challenge these thoughts by identifying them, questioning their validity and replacing them with more realistic and positive thoughts.
For example, you can say to yourself, "I have trained hard for this", "I have done well before” or "I'm doing this for myself.”
Set Realistic and Specific Goals
Goals can help you visualise the path to success and how to get there. However, make sure your goals are realistic and specific, not unrealistic and vague.
Unrealistic goals can increase stress and frustration, while specific goals can increase motivation and satisfaction.
For example, instead of saying, "I want to win" say, "I want to improve my personal best by three seconds.”
Visualise yourself performing well in the competition. It can help you enhance your skills, confidence and motivation.
It can also help you reduce your anxiety and prepare for different scenarios. Find a quiet place to relax and close your eyes to practice visualisation.
Put yourself where you need to perform and make it as real as your senses allow.
See yourself executing every move with precision and ease. Conjure up feelings of excitement as you meet your goal's expectations. Add a crowd because it's great at helping with immersion.
Repeat this process regularly until you feel confident and ready for the real thing.
Seek Social Support
Social support from your friends, family, teammates, coaches or mentors can help you cope with performance anxiety and enhance your performance.
They can provide you with emotional support, such as encouragement, praise, empathy or humour. They can also offer practical support, such as advice, feedback or assistance.
Seek out people who support your goals and can help you overcome your challenges. Avoid people who are critical of your abilities or who pressure you to perform well.
Sleep Your Way To Success
The science of sleep is a bit like the Goldilocks conundrum. You need to find the right balance of not too much and not too little to hit that sweet spot.
When this happens, your athletic performance will improve, and your body will be able to perform at its best.