Why sleep improves athletic performance

Sleep can help you to better recover from activity and training. When you sleep, you can restore your body, building muscle, strength, and endurance. Proper rest can improve your performance both physically and mentally.

Sleep and Athletic Performance

Getting enough sleep is key to reaching your peak athletic performance. In a study of college basketball players, sleeping ten hours a night helped players improve their performance. With more sleep at night, players had faster sprints, improved shooting accuracy, and quicker reaction times. Overall, they felt less sleepy, had increased vigor, and decreased fatigue. They felt better both physically and mentally during practices and games.

A similar study of a college tennis team showed improvement with better sleep as well. With greater sleep, the tennis players performed better on every drill. They sprinted faster, increased hit accuracy, and improved hitting depth. The athletes said they felt better overall.

Sleep and Cognitive Performance

Physical performance is important, but your cognitive performance shouldn’t be overlooked. Your brain can help you make the connections you need in training and athletic performance — and you need sleep to stay mentally sharp. Research indicates that sleep deprivation can have a negative effect on attention and working memory and other cognitive functions.

Using Sleep to Gain Athletic Performance

Many athletes focus on carb loading for energy before a major event like a race, but you should consider sleep loading as well. When you’ve slept well, you can tackle competitions feeling fresher and more restored. Sleep gives your muscles what they need to recover and grow stronger, and your mind what it needs to consolidate memories and learn.

Improve your sleep habits to get better sleep and see an improved athletic performance with these tips:

  • Don’t sacrifice sleep for exercise. Training is important, but it’s not more important than sleep. Your performance can suffer if you don’t get enough rest, so it’s not worth giving up sleep time to work out. Avoid working out late at night, as doing so can leave you feeling too keyed up to drift off and get a full night’s sleep.

  • Practice relaxation before bed. Let go of stress, clear your mind, and restore your body with relaxation techniques. Combining yoga and meditation can be especially helpful, as it allows you to stretch your body and increase circulation while relaxing your mind. Consider counting meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep breathing exercises.

  • Consider extra sleep. Athletes saw the greatest improvement when they slept more than usual. When you’re training heavily, 10 hours of sleep each night is a good goal.

  • Be aware that your diet may influence sleep. If you’re starting a low carb diet, you may experience some insomnia as your body adjusts. If you’re finding yourself awake at night after cutting carbs, consider eating more carbs and slowly cutting back instead of going cold turkey.

  • Practice good sleep hygiene. Keep a regular sleep schedule and bedtime routine so you can stay consistent. Stay away from caffeine late at night, and avoid heavy meals and screen time before bed. Make your bedroom a more restful place.

Alicia Sanchez is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com with a specialty in health and wellness. A Nashville native, Alicia finds the sound of summer storms so soothing that she still sleeps with recorded rain on her white noise machine.

 

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