Why does SLEEP matter?

by | Jul 19, 2018 | Athletes, Sports Nutrition

Share this post

To sleep or not to sleep? Should that even be a question? For many busy athletes….it often is.

Athletes, just like every other human being, need sleep. They may even need more of it due to their strenuous training schedules combined with daily life schedules. But are they getting enough? Most aren’t.


#Athletes, who are well rested have improved mood stabilization, emotional control and mental balance.

#Sleep also improves the immune system and reduces inflammatory behavior in the body. This is especially important for the athlete recovering from training bouts, competitions and injuries. This could be the difference between the body successfully adapting and overcoming an injury or re-aggravating a fading injury and being put on the shelf for the rest of the year.

Sleep has been shown to enhance REACTION TIME in athletes.

A series of studies performed by Dr. Cheri Mah at Stanford University looked at athletes with extended sleep up to 10 hours a day.

In those who extended sleep:

  • basketball players – 9.2% improvement in 3-point accuracy, 9% improvement in free throw accuracy, faster sprint speeds.
  • tennis players – got more of their first serves in play
  • swimmers – improved their sprint times.

Getting less than 7 hrs/day means it could take ~1/4-second longer to respond to stimulus. This is the difference between making and blowing a big play.


It’s no surprise that most of us are lacking sleep. Take a look at the following data trends:

50 years ago: Americans avg 8.5 hrs/night

Today: avg. 6.5 hrs/night

Trend: obesity rate has risen from 12% to 30% during same time-frame

Studies consistently show that adults sleeping <6 hrs/night increase their likelihood for becoming overweight or obese, even if they are exercising and eating right.

If we are seeing associations between overweight/obesity and sleep, how can we expect a highly-trained athlete to make gains with little to no sleep?

Another downside to lacking sleep: increased risk of injury. Take a look at the following graphic. As sleep decreased, rate of injury increased. It’s really hard to train when you’re injured!

J Pediatr Orthop. 2014 Mar;34(2):129-33


Basically, lack of sleep = altered hormones

  1. Ever feel more hungry when you aren’t sleeping enough? That’s because when your body lacks sleep, the hunger hormone ghrelin increases
  2. Feel like you can’t get full with less sleep? That’s because the feel-full/satisfied hormone leptin decreases
  3. Wonder why you can’t seem to lean out or gain muscle with less sleep? The stress hormone, cortisol increases – promotes fat storage, cravings for high-fat, high-carb comfort foods which raise the feel-good hormone serotonin to feel calm. Cortisol also blunts strength gains.

So – How much sleep should an athlete get?

7-9 hours. Yes, you read that right. SEVEN TO NINE HOURS each night. Not able to get that in? Try a power nap. Daytime napping is an especially useful tool for recovering from sleep debt. Most experts agree that the optimal time period for a nap is between 10 and 30 minutes. Studies have not shown much improvement in smaller naps ranging around 5 minutes while longer napping periods can interfere with nighttime sleep.

Share this post

Related Posts

Coffee – Health and Athletes

Coffee – Health and Athletes

Coffee – It’s good for you, it’s not good for you, it’s good for you….and back and forth we go. What’s my take on coffee? Read on to find out. Coffee for me is more than just the caffeine (since I literally become adapted to the caffeine so quickly I don’t even notice...

Contact Lindsey