Better Sleep Increases Athletic Performance

(Last Updated On: June 25, 2018)
better sleep improves athlete's performances

Good sleep boosts athletic performance.

We recently examined research showing that a habit of good sleeping improves eating habits. We can now add to this that a good night’s sleep boosts athletic performance.

For decades, many athletic coaches and trainers supposed that if their athletes had a good night’s sleep, they would get lazy and their performance would lag. For this reason, many coaches and trainers in highly competitive sports have their athletes wake up early to run or do other training.

Morning is fine but some trainers and coaches require waking at four or five A.M. for morning training, regardless of whether the athletes are getting enough sleep. Sure, getting up early makes a lot of sense if a person gets to bed at a decent hour, but as it often works out, young athletes stay up late and as a result of early-morning training, are continually tired.

And many coaches have figured this kind of sleepiness was just fine – and even helped performance. Well, they were wrong.

Stanford basketball players prove longer sleep increases performance

Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine recently conducted a three-month study on 11 players from the Stanford University basketball team. During the first two weeks to a month month, the players slept their normal sleeping habits – which ranged from six hours to nine hours during the night.

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During this time they were tested for sprinting speeds, basketball skills and reaction times. These included taking free throws and taking three-point shots.

Then the players were all told to sleep ten hours per night or as close to it as they could. They did this for between five and seven weeks. When they were traveling and didn’t get the ten hours in, they were told to take naps to make up the sleep time.

The players were each tested again at the end of this five to seven week period. Again their sprint times, shooting skills and reaction times were also tested.

The study found that after those weeks of sleeping ten hours per night, the players’ average sprint times went up from 16.2 seconds to 15.5 seconds. Their shooting accuracy went up from an average of 7.9 baskets out of 10 to 8.8 baskets out of 10. Their three-point shots increased from averaging 10.2 out of 15 to 11.6 baskets out of 15.

The players also played better and reported a significantly increased well-being during their games during the period of increased sleep.

Sleep and recovery

When we sleep, our body recovers from muscle aches and injuries. But the mind also recovers from stresses and performance anxieties. These have been found in multiple studies that have shown that cognition improves with better sleep.

When we sleep the neurons within our hippocampus and amygdala are refreshed. Our cells are also healed and our immune system cleans up invaders. Our gut bacteria also goes into high gear while we sleep.

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When there is a lack of this recovery, performance goes down

This was found in a study of 13 military pilots in the Poland Air Force. The pilots were tested for balance, strength, sprinting speeds and focus during survival training exercises. They were tested under normal conditions and again tested during periods of sleep deprivation.

The researchers found that a lack of sleep reduced practically all the measures. Lack of sleep reduced fifteen-meter dash speed from 5.01 meters per second to 4.64 meters per second. And lack of sleep reduced hand grip from 672 to 630 and 26% to 17%.

Furthermore, the research found that a lack of sleep negatively affected the pilots’ coordination.

Morning exercise helps us sleep better

Sleep Quality and exercise

Morning exercise improves sleep quality according to researchers.

A study presented at the 58th Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine has found that early morning exercise increases sleep quality.

The study, done by researchers from Appalachian State University and led by Scott Collier, PhD, FACSM, assistant professor, found that exercising at 7 a.m. resulted in deeper sleep and more REM sleep cycles, than exercising at 1 p.m. or 7 p.m.

Nine adults were studied, including six men and three women. The participants worked out for thirty minutes on a treadmill at the appointed times, changing occasionally to clarify test results.

The 7 a.m. exercise routine produced 75 percent more deep sleep and 20 percent more sleep cycles.

Other research has found that many people do not get adequate sleep quality or quantity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has characterized lack of sleep quality and quantity an epidemic. This is especial true and worrisome for adolescents, who stay up late to text with friends or interact with the computer.

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Chronic sleep shortage has been linked to Parkinson’s, dementia, cognition problems, depression, asthma, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and others.

Learn why supplemental melatonin doesn’t always work.

How much should we sleep?

Of course this is the big question, and research has found that this varies from person to person. With regard to sleeping ten hours a night, it must be remembered that these are young athletes. Younger people tend to need more sleep, and those who are involved in grueling workouts need even more sleep for better recovery than most.

Ten hours a night for normal adults, however, will typically result in an increased risk of mortality. So that is probably not the magic number.

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Mah CD, Mah KE, Kezirian EJ, Dement WC. The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. Sleep. 2011 Jul 1;34(7):943-50. doi: 10.5665/SLEEP.1132.


Case Adams, PhD

Case Adams has a Ph.D. in Natural Health Sciences, is a California Naturopath and is Board Certified as an Alternative Medicine Practitioner, with clinical experience and diplomas in Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling, Homeopathy and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 27 books and numerous articles on print and online magazines. Contact: [email protected]

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