How Sleep Affects Athletic Performance and Vice Versa


How does a lack of sleep affect health?

Not getting enough sleep is something that a lot of people do these days. Out of the British and American populations, one-third of them don’t get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night. The reasons for this lack of sleep are things like stress, work, and having a lot to do.

As a result, the show was eventually canceled. An example of the effects of sleep deprivation is exhibited by the TV show “Shattered” in 2004. The show received complaints from the public because the contestants were sleep-deprived and battling through long days. The show was eventually canceled.

The contestant who was hallucinating and convinced himself he was the Prime Minister of Australia, was clearly affected by not getting enough sleep.

Margaret Thatcher reportedly only slept for 4 hours per night, which is not uncommon for prime ministers. Some people believe they can function well on such little sleep, although there are short-term impacts.

The NHS stated that a lack of sleep can lead to various health problems which can shorten someone’s life expectancy.

How does a lack of sleep affect performance?

Although tennis legend Roger Federer and Olympic record-breaker Usain Bolt both get a lot of sleep, research suggests that most other elite athletes don’t sleep as well as them.

For example, ultrarunners and athletes who are going to be running for several days or overnight with little to no sleep might take part in a Fastest Known Time attempt.

While some runners will stop for power naps during the race, others will continue to the finish with no sleep. A 2018 study found that more than half of ultramarathon runners slept during an event that lasted 48 hours.

Dean Karnazes ran 350 miles over 3 nights with no rest at one point.

I realized I had been sleep-running when I woke up in the middle of the road for the third time. At first, I tried to go back to the shoulder, but I kept waking up in the middle of the road. It was freaky knowing that I was sleep-running.

If you’re regularly not getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night, you’re in danger of becoming sleep deprived, even if you can manage to go a few nights without sleep.

Half to three-quarters of professional athletes around the world have difficulty sleeping, according to a 2021 study. Another study from 2012 found that Olympic athletes got an average of only 6 hours and 55 minutes of sleep a night. Compared to healthy non-athletes, they took longer to fall asleep, spent more time awake in bed, and woke up more during the night.

The studies showed that the athletes were not getting enough sleep because of their training schedules, the timing of their training, the stress of competition, pre-race anxiety, and the overuse of technology.

The same factors that influence professional athletes also apply to athletes who are not considered elite or professional. Many age-group athletes and recreational athletes have to fit in early morning training sessions before work and worry about races, traveling, and the stresses of everyday life.

An Italian study from 2007 found that recreational athletes reported significantly more chronic and occasional sleep disorders compared to Olympic athletes.

Issues associated with a lack of sleep when it comes to performance include:

  • Poor muscle recovery, leading to injuries
  • Decreased immune system function (increases your chances of upper respiratory tract infections such as the common cold, tonsillitis, and sinus infections)
  • Altered perception of pain (making training and racing seem harder than usual)
  • Imbalance in the nervous system (can cause overtraining symptoms)
  • Impaired judgment/decision making
  • Reduced reaction time
  • Low mood

How to improve sleep quality

The average person needs around 8 hours of sleep per night, but some people need more or less. A 2019 study found that increasing sleep duration by 90 minutes for only 3 nights improved performance in a 1-hour cycling time trial by 3%.

This research demonstrates the advantages of sleeping more, but we are still left wondering how to sleep longer and better.

Here are 4 ways you can use in a bid to improve your sleep:

  1. Afternoon naps

If you are unable to get an extra 90 minutes of sleep per night, taking a nap could help improve your endurance performance, like the cyclists in the study.

According to research, if you’re an athlete and you get less than the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night, a 20-30 minute nap can help improve your running endurance, and make your run feel easier. Try not to let your naps last longer than 30 minutes, and try to time them between 1 and 4 pm, when we experience that “post lunch dip.”

  1. Wind down properly

Having a relaxing bedtime routine that allows for 30-60 minutes of quiet relaxation can help you sleep better. Listening to relaxing music, reading a book, or doing some gentle stretching should help you wind down.

  1. Make your bedroom a sleep-friendly environment

Team Sky gave an insight in 2016 into their hotel set-up, which saw them ensuring riders had their own mattresses and pillows carted from one hotel to the next to ensure a good night’s sleep. They also used hypoallergenic bedding, dehumidifiers, air purifiers, air conditioning units and heaters.

You can control your bedroom environment in some easier ways than lugging around your mattress to every competition.

To have a good night’s sleep, your bedroom should be comfortable, cool, dark, and quiet. Keeping your bedroom temperature between 60-71 degrees Fahrenheit (15.6-22 degrees C) will help you stay cool and prevent being woken up by heat.

  1. Consider your diet

It is not advised to consume caffeine in the afternoon as it can have negative effects on your sleep.

You should also avoid alcohol and nicotine if you want to sleep well. Although a glass of wine may help some people to relax and fall asleep, alcohol generally affects the quality of sleep. Nicotine, on the other hand, is a stimulant, so many smokers may have difficulty falling asleep, or they may not sleep as deeply.

Eating a heavy meal too close to bedtime can raise your body temperature and keep you awake because the digestion process requires your body to work harder.

In contrast, how does exercise affect sleep?

If you’re one of the many Americans who don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis, you might want to consider getting some exercise during the day. Research has shown that exercise can improve sleep efficiency and duration for adults, especially those who live with chronic disease. Not getting enough rest has also been linked to sluggishness and physical inactivity the following day, suggesting that there’s a bidirectional relationship between sleep and exercise.

While physical activity has numerous benefits for overall health, it is important to be aware of intensity and timing when planning exercise for sleep. According to current guidelines, vigorous exercise should not be done within three hours of bedtime.

The way you sleep can be affected by how you exercise, and vice versa. It’s important to know this relationship in order to make a workout plan that actually works.

Exercise Tires the Body

Sleeping resets the pressure to sleep that builds up throughout the day, which begins anew when you wake up the next day.

A physically demanding job usually means that a person is tired when they go to bed, which can help them fall asleep quickly. However, exercise is generally considered to be better for the quality of sleep, because people who have physically demanding jobs often have pain in their muscles and joints that can disrupt sleep.

Exercise Helps You Fall Asleep Faster

Anxiety about sleep is a common problem for many people, especially those with insomnia. If you’re anxious about sleep, you may start to associate your bed with stress and worry. This can make anxiety worse. Exercise can help reduce anxiety. It can take your mind off things that trigger anxiety and also help the brain reduce stress.

Research has found that several forms of exercise can help improve sleep quality in older adults, including aerobic exercise, resistance training, yoga, and tai chi. One study found that mind-body exercises like yoga or tai chi were especially effective, and also offered benefits like improved mood and mental health. Consequently, exercising both the mind and body may promote more restful sleep.

When is the best time to exercise for sleep?

People respond differently to exercise, so there is no certain routine that will work for everyone to improve sleep. However, studies have found that exercising in the morning can help people fall asleep more quickly, improve sleep quality, and spend less time awake at night than exercising in the afternoon or evening. Light exercise in the evening, such as stretching or yoga, can also help people relax before bed without tiring their bodies too much.

Exercising in the Morning is Best for Sleep

Exercising in the morning has been linked to an increase in very low frequency, low frequency, and high frequency heart rate activity. This balance promotes parasympathetic activity in the central nervous system during sleep, which is associated with calm and relaxation.

Although researchers aren’t entirely sure why, they believe that exercising in the morning leads to more restful sleep than exercising in the evening. One theory is that the spike in heart rate after evening exercise enhances sympathetic activity, which is associated with stress. Exercising in the morning gives the body enough time to calm down before sleep, so the parasympathetic nervous system can take over and one can relax.

Nighttime Exercise can Decrease REM Sleep

If you exercise at night, you may experience a spike in body temperature, which can interfere with the natural decline in core temperature that occurs as part of the 24-hour circadian cycle. You may also experience a decrease in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. These changes have not been observed as consistently in people who exercise in the morning.

The time of day that you exercise can affect how well you sleep at night. If you have a busy schedule, exercising at night might be the most convenient option. However, it is important to note that while some people may benefit from light exercise closer to bed, most experts agree vigorous physical activity can make it harder to fall asleep, reduce total sleep time, and negatively affect sleep efficiency.

While nighttime exercise isn’t always bad or unhealthy, a study showed that resistance exercise improved sleep for healthy college-aged people, regardless of what time of day they worked out. Those who worked out in the morning tended to fall asleep faster, but those who worked out in the evening slept more soundly, waking up less frequently through the night.

Timing High-Intensity Workouts

When you engage in moderate-intensity exercises, you can still talk, but not sing, during the activity. You should be able to say a few words without pausing for a breath.Moderate-intensity exercises include brisk walking, water aerobics, tennis, or golf. While most exercises are considered moderate to high intensity, there are still some that allow you to talk or sing during the activity. These moderate intensity exercises include brisk walking, water aerobics, tennis, or golf.

One study found that people who did a high-intensity workout before bed had a higher heart rate and took 14 more minutes to fall asleep than people who did a moderate-intensity workout.

However, some studies have found that intense exercise may help people sleep more deeply. A study of physically active adults found that those who felt they had worked out harder had more restorative deep sleep than those who felt they had worked out less. They also fell asleep faster, woke up less during the night, and spent less time awake in bed.

The best time to engage in high-intensity exercise may depend on your sleeping habits. People who sleep earlier or later in the day may have different performance levels during different times of day. One study found that people may want to consider timing their high-intensity workouts based on whether they are a morning or evening person.


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