Athletes need a lot of things to perform their best, such as healthy food and a sports nutrition plan, hydration and regular exercise. However, one important question that is often overlooked is how much sleep does an athlete need.
Getting enough quality sleep is crucial for a student athlete’s physical and mental health, as well as their performance on the field or court. Lack of sleep puts athletes at risk of acute sports injury, illness and leads to development of chronic diseases. (1)
Between managing priorities for coursework, games, practices and additional workouts, many student athletes are at risk for not getting enough sleep. Many athletes experience sleep deprivation and that can hurt your performance.
Read on to learn how much sleep you need and tips to improve your sleep quality.
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How much sleep do athletes need each night
Studies have shown that athletes who sleep for nine to ten hours each night have better reaction times, endurance and overall performance compared to those who get less sleep.
Athletes who slept averaged less than 8 hours of sleep per night were almost twice as likely to have an injury than athletes who slept for more than 8 hours. (2)
Benefits of sleep for athletes
There are multiple benefits of sleep for athletes. In addition to improving performance, sleep also plays a crucial role in recovery for athletes.
During sleep, the body releases growth hormone, which helps repair and rebuild muscles that have been broken down during exercise.
Without enough sleep, an athlete’s muscles may not have enough time to recover, leading to soreness, fatigue, and a higher risk of injury. (3)
Athletes who get more sleep have faster reaction times, faster sprint speed, better decision making and improved memory. (4)
Also, athletes who regularly get enough sleep are more likely to eat healthier foods that will benefit athletic performance. (5)
Three related factors for sleep: sleep, performance and recovery
- Sleep length (how many hours/night, plus naps)
- Sleep quality (perception of adequacy and overall sleep experience)
- Sleep phase (what levels of sleep did you have)
Sleep has a restorative effect on the body and influences training adaptations, performance and recovery. However athletes report difficulties in sleeping during periods of intense exercise and therefore have decreased performance.
It’s possible that poor sleep results from overtraining or that intense training impacts sleep and recovery.
So following some of the tips below can help support adequate sleep and ensure you’re getting the adequate nutrients needed to support your performance.
How can athletes get quality sleep
Since some of the nutrition recommendations include supplements, athletes should ensure that you work with a registered dietitian or medical provider.
This ensures you make sure you’re using third party tested supplement and that there are no interactions with any medications you are taking.
Some nutrition recommendations to improve sleep include
- Carbohydrate rich meals (130 grams) eaten about 45 minutes before bedtime can help to increase the length of REM (deep sleep) for athletes (7)
- Melatonin: A low dose of melatonin has been shown to improve your overall quality of sleep. It affects core body temperature to aid sleep and improve the amount of time you are asleep when taken about 3-4 hours before bedtime. (8)
- Tryptophan: Eating a bedtime snack rich in tryptophan (casein and whey) from foods like cottage cheese, pumpkin seeds, cheese and eggs can improve sleep.
- Antioxidants: Antioxidants play a role in muscle recovery but also provide a benefit in reducing inflammation that can impact sleep regulation.
- Tart cherry: Tart cherries have been shown to improve the quality and length of sleep. Studies show these benefits with drinking two 8 oz servings of concentrated cherry juice.
- Magnesium: Magnesium supplementation may promote sleep onset but hasn’t been studied widely in the adolescent athlete population. It’s best to consume magnesium rich foods to ensure adequate intake.
Here are some overall tips to improve sleep quality
- Stick to a consistent sleep schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends.
- Create a sleep-conducive environment: Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark and quiet. Use comfortable bedding and a supportive mattress.
- Avoid stimulants: Don’t consume caffeine before bedtime, as this can interfere with sleep.
- Wind down before bedtime: Create a relaxing bedtime routine, such as taking a warm bath, reading a book or listening to calming music.
- Limit screen time: Avoid using electronic devices such as phones, tablets or laptops before bed. The blue light emitted from these devices can interfere with sleep.
By following these tips, athletes can improve their sleep quality and ensure they are giving their bodies the best chance to recover and perform at their best.
This post helps you understand how much sleep does an athlete need as well as tips to make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
Getting enough quality sleep is essential for athletes’ physical and mental health, as well as their performance on the field or court. Athletes should aim for at least nine to ten hours of sleep per night and follow tips for getting good sleep.
By prioritizing sleep, athletes can improve their performance, prevent injury and achieve their goals.
Steph Magill, MS, RD, CD, FAND has over 22 years of experience in public health and nutrition. As a performance registered dietitian nutritionist, Stephanie specializes in sports nutrition and provides simple and actionable information so that athletes can be well fueled for high performance on and off the field. Stephanie has a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.