The most recent research on sleep and athletic performance says that athletes should be aiming for 8-10 hours of total sleep per night. In fact, you can unlock an extra 2-5% of performance gains by simply getting more rest. This makes sleep the ultimate performance enhancer! Famous athletes LeBron James and Roger Federer typically get 12 hours of sleep per night.
On the flip side, less than 6 hours of sleep per night is when health and performance start to suffer. If you don’t get 8 hours of sleep per night, you’re at 1.7 times greater risk of injury compared to those athletes that get 8 hours of sleep. Reduced reaction time and cognitive function are likely to blame for the increased risk of injury in the less slept. Lack of sleep can reduce your pain tolerance by up to 10%. Since athletes are constantly dealing with injuries, lack of sleep can actually make their injuries feel more intense.
So how do you make sure you get enough sleep? It sounds easy, but many athletes struggle with sleep issues and even resort to sleep medications for help. Here are a few ways to help make sure you get the sleep you need.
- Have a sleep schedule – Pick a bed time and wake up time and stick to them as consistently as possible. This can take some time to establish and usually requires small steps to make it a regular habit. Let’s say you want to fall asleep at 10PM and get up at 6AM. If you’re used to going to bed at midnight, then start by going to bed at 11:30PM for a few nights until you get used to the new time and then start hitting the sheets at 11PM until eventually you get to sleep at 10PM without effort.
- Set your internal clock – Your body’s internal clock is sensitive to light and dark, so when you wake up in the morning, open the blinds and let the sunshine cue your clock that it is go time. Likewise, too much light in the evenings can signal that you should stay awake. Before bedtime, dim as many lights as possible and turn off bright overhead lights. Avoid computers, tablets, cell phones, and TV an hour before bed, since your eyes are especially sensitive to the blue light from electronic screens. (If there’s something good on TV at night, DVR it so you can watch it another time!)
- Skip the alarm/snooze button – When you’re trying to set a new wake up time, try to let it happen naturally by going to bed earlier so that you wake up at your desired time after your 8-10 hours of sleep. If you do need to set an alarm, resist the temptation to hit the snooze button as post-sleep snoozing won’t help you set your new sleep schedule and isn’t really valuable high-quality sleep.
- Food & drink before bed – Eat your dinner at the same time every night 2-3 hours before bedtime. This will help establish a schedule and make sure you’re not too stuffed or hungry while trying to achieve your full night’s sleep. If you need a snack before bed, combine small amounts of carbs and proteins to get you through till breakfast. Obviously avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine in the evening that can impair sleep onset. Alcohol can be destructive to sleep patterns as it raises your body temperature while your liver is processing the alcohol in your body. As we age, alcohol consumption in the evening is strongly associated with increased risk of neurological degenerative disorders, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
- Take a power nap – If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, skip the nap. Otherwise, if your sleep gets interrupted or if you just feel tired, taking a 15-30 minute power nap during the day can give you a 2-3 hour boost in energy and performance.
- Mindfulness & meditation – Along with a sleep-friendly bedroom environment, creating the right mindset is key to getting quality sleep at night. After all, it’s hard to relax when you’re still thinking about a missed shot or an argument with a teammate or coach in the minutes before bed. Mindfulness and meditation are two ways to help you create the right mindset for sleep.
Athletes must first be healthy to achieve their performance potential. Athletes who fail to complete 80+% of their training sessions do not hit their performance goals. In other words, if you’re too sick, too tired or too rundown to train, you’ll never achieve elite performance. Athlete health is also crucial to supporting longevity, meaning sustaining elite performance over multiple seasons and throughout a career.
If you need help with your fitness training, nutrition & sleep habits, contact the Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialists at Back to Function by email or call 310-534-1900. We can help you Feel – Recover – Perform Better today!
Peak. The New Science of Athletic Performance That is Revolutionizing Sports. Dr. Marc Bubbs. 2019.