Athletes vs. Sleep: All You Need to Know

Athletes vs. Sleep: All You Need to Know

Athletes who are successful in their chosen sports cannot rely purely on their God-given talents. In fact, maintaining a high level of performance requires attention to many aspects, including proper nutrition, conditioning, and hydration. Without these other components, an athlete will most certainly experience poorer functioning and an increased risk of injury. Maintaining good habits for athletes is crucial to staying healthy and strong.

Another important aspect that many people take for granted is the need for proper rest. Adequate sleep is often taken for granted, but without enough hours of sleep, an athlete’s performance can drastically decrease. Many decorated athletes suggest getting enough rest as one of their most important rituals, and it’s for good reason.

If you’re trying to improve your overall performance as an athlete, sleep is one factor you cannot go without. If you’re not sure why getting some shut eye is so important, the following is all you need to know about athletes versus sleep.


Everyone needs a healthy amount of sleep, whether they consider themselves an athlete or not. The National Sleep Foundation recently updated their recommended sleep durations to help individuals get an idea of how many hours they should dedicate to slumber. The new table displays the recommended times for every age, as well as hours that may be appropriate and hours that are not recommended.

In general, young children require more time for sleep, and the recommended times become lower as age increases. For example, toddlers should be getting an average of 11-14 hours, while young adults need 7-9 hours.  

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Improved Overall Health

When we start feeling sick and run-down, our bodies tend to crave a warm bed and a lot of rest. There’s no surprise here — if we’ve been avoiding quality sleep, our bodies have a harder time protecting us from illness. For many, catching up on those valuable Zs is a simple solution that will get their health back on track.

For athletes, staying healthy is vital if they want to be able to take part in practices, training, and games. Being sick is a sure sign that they’re not doing all they can to keep their bodies in top shape; sickness can throw a curveball and often lands athletes on the sidelines.

Sleep can also help with overall health when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight. When the body gets enough rest, it doesn’t need to rely on added calories to maintain energy. Those who sleep better hours require smaller food portions and will likely make healthier food choices during the day. In comparison, less sleep and junk food often go hand-in-hand. Athletes who need to find energy from another source tend to load up on bad calories, which can increase their body weight over time and affect their overall performance.

Other illnesses that show potential connections to poor sleep include diabetes, cancer, stroke, and the common cold. Athletes who want to stay in the game will want to take their sleep regime seriously, as the ramifications of this component travel well beyond the court, track, or field.

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Fewer Injuries

A plethora of studies have expressed the correlations between sleep and injury prevention. It is a common trend that those athletes who lack proper sleep are exposed to greater risk of injury than those who get the allotted amount of rest.

There are a few reasons for this. The first is that fatigue can cause athletes to use their bodies improperly. Instead of applying the ideal form and approach to their daily routines and moves, they may take short-cuts due to tiredness and injure themselves as a result. Athletes may experience injuries due to improper use and may even cause greater risk to teammates or opponents.

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Fatigue also results in a slower reaction times, which means that athletes will have less of a chance to respond to things like changes in environment and obstacles. For example, a skier may not be able to respond quickly enough to surprise obstacles on the hills, while a football player may not react in time to an oncoming tackle.

The third reason that less sleep results in greater injuries is that the body isn’t given enough time to rest and repair. Even if an injury is not obvious, the body requires time to mend small injuries and regenerate cells after hard workouts, games, and daily use. The less time given to the body to recuperate, the easier it is for injuries to become problems that take a lot longer to fix. The proper amount of rest gives the body time to make these small repairs and stop them from becoming worse.

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Fewer Mistakes

Athletes who want to improve their awareness and performance during their sport will need to ensure that they’re getting enough Zs. Sleeping for enough hours helps the brain to improve its overall functioning, which includes helping with improved memory, moral reasoning, and decision-making.

Sleep loss impairs the brain, slowing down its ability to perform all of these functions. Athletes will have a harder time making quick decisions, and sensitivity to life-threatening actions can also be impaired. It may also become harder to remember important aspects of their sport, including their routines or plays. To avoid injury and perform at their best, athletes needs to get lots of sleep to ensure that their brain is working at full capacity and that they can rely on it to make game-time decisions that will avoid sports injuries and increase performance.

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Improved Accuracy

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Every sport requires accuracy: A gymnast must land in a precise spot on the beam in order not to fall, a soccer player needs to kick the ball towards a specific spot of the net, and a grand prix horseback rider must gauge the perfect distance from each jump to ensure flawless execution as well as avoiding faults. In every sport, accuracy is the component that determines how close a goal is to going in versus missing by just inches.

For athletes who lack the recommended amount of sleep, there can be a very strong interference with their accuracy. Increasing the number of hours of rest can help to improve accuracy across all facets of their sport, including scoring, ball-handling, hand-eye coordination, posture, and more. For an improved performance overall, ensuring an athlete gets enough sleep is critical to efficient accuracy.

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Longer Career

Athletes who love the sports they play likely want to be able to perform for as many years as possible. This is especially true for those individuals who have made a career out of their talent and who want to continue making a living performing in a sport that they enjoy and excel at. Surprisingly, getting enough sleep can help to contribute to a longer, more illustrious career. Without adequate rest, an athlete’s career can be short-lived or shortened by a few years at the very least.

This is due to all of the benefits that good sleep provides; athletes who are able to avoid serious injuries and keep their bodies healthy are much more capable of enjoying a long-lasting career. A body that is constantly sick, fatigued, and injured will experience a much shorter or poorer career that can also lessen their value as an athlete and shorten their time on any given roster.

Those individuals who take care of themselves will see the difference that good rest can make, not only in the immediate future but in the long run as well.

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Improved Reaction Times

For all athletes, the difference of a few milliseconds can be crucial. These few seconds can make all the difference between scoring the game-winning goal, crossing the finish line first, or making the perfect adjustment to fly past their defender. Possessing split-section reaction times is vital to a great performance and an ideal outcome, which is why sleep is so important to athletes.

Fatigue often results in slower reaction times, similar to those of someone who has consumed alcohol. In sports, reaction time is crucial to a great performance, and feeling groggy or unrested can have a lot to do with a slower, less precise performance.

If you’re struggling with this aspect but you are in fact getting enough sleep, consider these tips for improving your reaction times in sport.


It is very obvious why sleep is so important to the overall health and potential for success in each and every athlete. For those individuals who want to start increasing their resting time, there are a few different tactics to try, all of which may help to increase or improve upon the rest they’re getting.  

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Be consistent

If you’re able to get your recommended hours, do your best to start and finish them at the same time every night. The impact won’t be nearly as effective if you’re getting your 8 hours of sleep at different times every single day, so finding a consistent time to go to sleep that works with your schedule is best.

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Set an alarm if you have to for when it’s time to shut off the technology and head to bed, and make sure you’re getting up when your alarm tells you to. Doing this will help your body’s internal clock; it will recognize when it’s time to go to bed, and the quality of your sleep will improve dramatically. At some point, you may even be able to get up without an alarm because your body will train itself to wake up at the right time.  

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Avoid sleeping in

Sometimes we like to sleep in on days off or weekends, but even one day of irregular sleeping can throw off your internal clock. If you’ve stayed up late the night before, make sure to set your alarm regardless and have a nap in the afternoon. This is a more efficient way to get the sleep you need without throwing off the internal clock that’s been established.

If you are going to nap, you’ll want to set an alarm for this as well. If you’re really tired, you run the risk of napping for two to three hours, which can be just as harmful to your rest the following night.

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Mind your exposure to light

To improve your quality of sleep, take care that you are mindful of your exposure to light. At nighttime, try to reduce your use of bright screens a few hours before you head to bed. This means turning off your phone, television, and tablet and trying out a different activity like reading or doing the dishes.

You’ll also want to reduce as much light as possible during sleep hours. This can be done by installing heavy drapes and blocking bright lights from fans and alarm clocks. Phones should never come into the room; the screen and notifications can be distracting and create a more restless sleep.

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When the morning comes, try exposing yourself to light within the first few minutes of waking. This will help to wake you up naturally and increase your energy levels.

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Train and practice during the day

If possible, try to complete your training and practices during the day when there is still lots of natural light. Those individuals who are able to perform their activities during the day often feel more tired at night and more alert when they awake.

The harder you exercise, the deeper and more restful your sleep is likely to be. However, even a short workout or walk around the block can have positive benefits to your sleeping pattern. Vigorous workouts should be completed a few hours before your bedtime, since exercising close to bedtime can affect your sleep. Give yourself a few hours so that your body has enough time to come back down to a relaxed level.


It cannot be emphasized enough that adequate sleep is a huge part of an athlete’s success. Not only does resting help to fight off sickness and fatigue, but it will also benefit an athlete’s performance in a plethora of ways. Those who are struggling with their sleep should consider the tips listed, or speak to a specialist about the options for improved sleep quality.

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