Numerous studies have shown that rest and recovery play an integral role in helping top-class athletes perform to the best of their abilities.
Building good quality sleep into a training regime not only helps performance, but also provides the body with the necessary time to repair itself from the physical demands placed upon it.
Many experts say that seven to nine hours of sleep per night is the optimum amount, while power naps are also said to have numerous health benefits.
Failing to get enough sleep is a recipe for disaster, contributing to many factors that can have a negative impact on an athlete’s health and wellbeing.
Read on as we take a closer look at why getting good quality sleep plays such an important part in athletic performance.
Optimizing sleep to boost performance
Many professional soccer clubs have become switched onto the performance benefits of ensuring that their players get enough sleep.
Sleep coach, Nick Littlehales, famously worked with Manchester United’s players to help them optimise their resting hours.
His advice had a big impact on Cristiano Ronaldo, with the forward asking Littlehales to devise an optimal sleeping routine when he moved to Real Madrid.
The 35-year-old continues to implement the techniques he learned, a factor that has contributed massively to his longevity in the game.
“Proper sleep is really important for getting the most out of training,” he said. “I go to bed early and get up early, especially before matches. Sleep helps muscles recover which is really important.
“Training and physical sessions are most important, but living a relaxed lifestyle helps you to be the best you can be, physically and mentally.
“I spend my free time with family and friends, which keeps me relaxed and in a positive mindset.”
Sleep reduces the risk of injury
An in-depth study led by respected neuropsychologist, Timothy Royer, discovered that failing to get enough sleep can have a negative impact on testosterone levels.
Testosterone has been proven to be a vital hormone for athletes, impacting strength, speed, muscle mass and general mood.
While monitoring NBA players over a number of seasons, Royer found that the league’s punishing travel and fixtures schedule was having a detrimental effect on testosterone levels.
Players who suffered this were much more susceptible to injury, an issue that the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) are keen to see resolved. And while making changes on the recovery side – ensuring that players invest in a high quality mattress, are educated on proper nutrition and develop good recovery habits, ultimately the biggest difference will come in the playing schedule.
“It’s not surprising that poor sleep patterns will negatively affect performance and, more importantly, can cause significant long-term health risks,” said NBPA executive director, Michele Roberts.
“In our last round of bargaining, we addressed some of these concerns through schedule adjustments, including by lengthening the season and by increasing the mandatory number of days off.
“We are anxious to see any new data analysing the effects of sleep loss in professional sports so that we can continue our efforts.”
Veteran sprinter proof that sleep works
Six-time Olympic gold medallist Allyson Felix is living and breathing proof that getting good quality sleep helps an athlete achieve peak performance.
The veteran sprinter has worked extensively with sleep experts to build a five-step sleep routine that has helped her stay at the top of the tree in athletics.
Her schedule includes a minimum six-and-a-half hour sleep each night supplemented by a 20-90 minutes power nap during the day.
She also keeps a consistent bedtime, keeps electronic devices out of the bedroom wherever possible and gets a daily dose of sunshine to keep her body’s natural circadian rhythm on track.
“Being a mom and Olympic athlete are the two best jobs in the world, and as most working moms can attest, the better I sleep over the course of a day, the better my performance is,” she said.
“Whether that’s a quick power nap on the couch or sleeping on an airplane when I’m travelling, I need healthy sleep to be the best I can be, both on and off the track.
“Sleep experts have helped me recognise that a high-quality, customised sleep system tailored to one’s specific sleep preferences can help me get the critical rest and recovery I need to excel as a working mom and athlete.”
Sleep and athletic performance – the final word
There is a huge body of evidence that proves getting good quality sleep plays a vital role in helping athletes perform at their best.
Failing to build sufficient rest and recovery time into an athletes’ schedule can have an adverse effect on their ability to produce their best form.
It is also a factor that can increase the chances of suffering injuries and can even have a negative impact on mental wellbeing.
As highlighted by the likes of Ronaldo and Felix, athletes who get the optimum amount of sleep undoubtedly give themselves a vital edge over their competition.