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Sleep and Athletic Performance

Elite athletes need to follow a systematic approach in order to achieve peak performance. This approach is based on the fundamental principle of the “training response” which focuses on obtaining a balance between stress, fatigue and recovery. Simply focusing on improving performance without managing an athletes’ stress response will often result in maladaptive performance especially during critical phases of game-play. One effective method of obtaining that balance is through adequate sleep. There is evidence to support the importance of sleep in optimizing recovery and improving athletic performance, however, sleep is often overlooked or inadequately addressed.

Athletes often report poor sleep quality and challenges with falling asleep. This is due to many factors which include but are not limited to, poor sleep hygiene, unstructured bedtime routine and limited relaxation techniques. This poses a significant issue because there is evidence to suggest that athletes have an increased need for sleep to ensure adequate physiological and psychological recovery following training. Without adequate sleep, athletes may not be able to appropriately recover. Poor sleep quality, particularly during intense training and competition periods has been identified as a marker of under-recovery and an early sign of overreaching. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that sleep-deprived athletes have reduced cognitive and motor performance, reaction times and emotional stability. Sleep management is therefore highly recommended to facilitate psychological and physiological recovery, and optimize athletic performance.

Tips To Manage Sleep

#1 – Sleep Amount

Although is recommended that athletes get at least 7 – 9 hours of sleep this can vary between individuals. In general, athletes will require more sleep especially during periods of high training load and competitive stress. Adolescents undergoing heavy training may require up to 10 hours of sleep per night. Another study suggests that athletes who train 4 – 6 hours may require 10 – 12 hours of sleep each night.

#2 – Routine & Habit

Ensure there is consistency between bedtime and morning waking by keeping the times the same. This trains an athlete's physiology to know when it is time to fall asleep and wake up. Athletes should also avoid maladaptive habits such as screen time in bed. The maintenance of an environment that facilitates positive sleep is also effective. This could include using black-out blinds.

#3 – The Power Nap

A post-lunch nap for 30 minutes has been demonstrated to have physiological and perceptual benefits.

#4 – Recovery from training or competition

Allowing for adequate recovery after training sessions has been reported to enhance physiological and psychological processes which contribute to improved sleep quality. There are many recovery strategies which reduce muscle soreness, inflammation and pain resulting in improved sleep. An example is cold water immersion also known as ice baths which reduce the amount of muscle soreness and inflammation following intense physical exertion.

#5 – Worry and anxiety before sleep

Elite athletes may experience worry and anxiety while trying to sleep in response to training, competition, and/or lifestyle factors outside of sport. Tools such as progressive muscle relaxation, goal setting, imagery and self-talk are effective in reducing the competitive anxiety response. Another tool is mental rehearsal of optimal performance to sharpen an athlete’s focus and restore confidence in their ability to perform.

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Peak Cognition is a cognitive health management platform that allows you to monitor your athletes' sleep by tracking their deep sleep, light sleep and total sleep each night. Contact us for more information.


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