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How poor sleep affects athletic performance

How Poor Sleep Quality Affects Athletic Performance

Tara Youngblood · Sep 03, 2020
How poor sleep affects athletic performance

Whether you’re competing at an elite level or you’re simply staying active to promote overall health, sleep is vital to your athletic performance and muscle recovery. When you put your body through repetitive motions in sports, you increase the risk of associated injuries and fatigue. 

Not only does quality sleep repair and rejuvenate the body to stimulate muscle growth, but it also sharpens the mind and boosts mental clarity to prepare your brain to learn and retain new skills.

Whether you’re a coach, an athlete, or purely an active individual, sleep is the greatest defense against a plethora of ailments that will hinder the ability to perform.

Sleep and Athletic Performance

From basketball players looking to improve shooting accuracy and stamina to sprinters hoping to shave seconds off their 100-meter dash, sleep quality is a main determining factor that can either limit or enhances your absolute best. Athletes that don’t get enough quality sleep are statistically less likely to perform at their best. 

Interestingly, a study on runners showed that while the body could take in the same level of oxygen regardless of hours deprived of sleep, the runner’s perceived exhaustion was much greater—making the overall feat more difficult than it would have been if they received an adequate night of sleep prior to race day.

That’s only scratching the surface of the damaging after-effects of sleep deprivation. A landmark chronic sleep deprivation study by Karine Spiegel, Rachel Leproult, and Eve Van Cauter used eleven men restricted to four hours of sleep for six nights in a row. A list of hormonal and metabolic markers was measured throughout each day.

Young Adults

The young men, all between 18 and 27 years old, all trended towards multiple, negative metabolic and hormonal changes throughout the week. Cortisol the “stress hormone” connected with overtraining, increased markedly, and glucose tolerance dropped. Both are indicators that are typically associated with premature aging—the last thing an athlete wants.

Researchers found that the best way to counteract these effects and restore the mechanisms that prolong an athlete's career was a consistent sleep regimen. Only when the body is well-rested can it simultaneously replenish glycogen stores, maintain testosterone levels, reduce inflammation, and boost motor skill development.

Benefits of Sleep for Athletes

In addition to the physical benefits of sleep, athletes everywhere will be excited to know there are dozens of mental benefits as well.

Improve Decision-Making 

 Scientists now even equate sleep deprivation to being intoxicated—you can essentially become impaired to a point where you appear and act "drunk" due to sleeplessness. This serious lack of mental coordination can not only hurt performance, but it can also lead to a costly mental misstep when each moment counts.

Improves Reaction Time

When you have fractions of a second to react or make a decision on the next play, it's important to be mentally sound. Without sleep, the mind isn't able to easily consolidate memories (recall a play from game film the day before) or absorbed new knowledge (adjust to a new opponent).

How Lack of Sleep Affects Your Body

Scientists took a group of tennis players and found that by confining their sleep to 5 hours or less decreased serving accuracy by 53%. For recreational and professional athletes alike, this number is staggering. Many athletes would have to work tirelessly to improve performance by even a few percentages in a lifetime, imagine taking away that hard work in a single night of poor sleep.

Reduce Injury Risk

For many athletes, there is no greater fear than a potential injury during the season which could shorten your career or disrupt your favorite form of exercise. The same muscles get used repeatedly, leading to fatigue and compromised athletic performance. In order to manage the chronic tear-down of muscle fibers, athletic performance relies on the restorative properties only sleep can provide.

Sleep, specifically non-REM or deep sleep is when the body produces human growth hormone and effectively repairs any micro-tears so muscle growth can occur. Without enough quality, deep sleep, the blood supply does not shift to muscle repair/growth as efficiently and recovery is compromised.

The important link between recovery and performance cannot be overstated. A study looking at injury rates in high school athletes found that hours asleep was the strongest predictor of injury, even more than hours of practice.

Another similar study found that adolescent athletes who slept more each night were 68 percent less likely to be injured than athletes who regularly slept less. It’s clear that the longevity of an athlete’s career relies heavily on their ability to reach and maintain deep sleep. Luckily, this is not an insurmountable task when you know how to move the body into a restful sleep and maintain a consistent sleep schedule.

While it's important to prioritize your sleep, the key to your deepest sleep lies in temperature regulation. Keeping a cool sleep environment also ensures that excessive sweating only happens when you're strength training, not during sleep. Learn more about the science behind the serious muscle-building power of temperature-regulated sleep and create your custom sleep recipe today. 

About the Author

Tara Youngblood

Tara Youngblood

Tara Youngblood is ChiliSleep’s co-founder and CEO. An accomplished scientist, author, and speaker, Tara’s unique ideas are revolutionizing the future of sleep health by making sleep easy, approachable, and drug-free.
Learn more about Tara.

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