The effect of sleep on athletic performance has become a topic of great interest because of increasing scientific evidence demonstrating a relationship between critical sleep factors (sleep length, sleep quality, and circadian sleep phase) and human performance. Current research hypothesises that sleep supports improvements in sport performance due to the release of growth hormone during phases of deep sleep. Growth hormone stimulates muscle growth and repair, promotes bone building, and helps athletes recover (Van Winckel et al., 2014). On the other hand, a lack of sleep has been linked with under-recovery and can lead to alterations in mood and motivation, and a negative effect on athletic performance.
As an athlete, sleep is one of the most valuable tools in your recovery arsenal. In addition to the aforementioned benefits, sleep can also refresh you mentally and has been shown to improve alertness and other psychological processes. So, what are some sleep guidelines you should endeavour to follow as an athlete to ensure you are performing at your best?
1. Players should be encouraged to maximise their sleep in a dark, calm and relaxing atmosphere. Your room should be at a comfortable temperature and your bed should be cozy.
2. Try and maintain a regular sleeping routine (i.e. go to bed at the same time every night). Avoid sleep debt – if you miss out on two hours of sleep time on one night, try your best to make it up on another night. Even better, extend your regular sleep time. An experiment in 2011 by Mah et al. showed that basketball athletes who extended their regular sleep time by two hours per night for five to seven weeks were able to sprint faster and had greater shooting accuracy when compared to their baseline performance.
3. Avoid technology before bed. Sleeping with electronics (i.e. phone or PC) nearby can be distracting if they make noise or emit light. Phones and computers give off bright white/blue lights that prevent our brains from producing melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle or circadian rhythm. Reducing melatonin makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. Leave your electronics in another room.
Sport performance is a result of a complex synergistic interaction of technical, tactical, physiological, psychological, environmental and social factors and the recovery phase MUST be considered as an inherent component of the training process.
– Mah, C.D., Mah, K. E., Kezirain, E.J. and Dement, W.C., 2011. The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. Sleep, 34, pp. 943-950
– Van Winckel, J., et al. 2014. Fitness in Soccer: The Science and Practical Application