“If you told an athlete you had a treatment that would reduce the chemicals associated with stress, that would naturally increase the human growth hormone, that enhances recovery rate, that improves performance, they would all do it. Sleep does all of those things.”— Casey Smith, Head Athletic Trainer, Dallas Mavericks
Ever wondered why during some games you play exceptionally well and on others you don’t? I guarantee that it has something to do with how much you slept the night before. It’s a crazy concept, I know. I’m sure if you asked any athlete, in any sport, you’ll likely hear training, conditioning, and practice. Perhaps nutrition, or persistence, but rarely, if ever, will you hear someone mention sleep—except for maybe the greatest players of all time because they know how much sleep affects athletic performance.
SLEEP IS A CRUCIAL PILLAR OF SUCCESS
That’s right. The GOATS—the best of the best— are where they are, standing at the highest point of the podium, not because of how much they put into the pitch, the court, or the pavement, but in the bedroom. Sleep—the quality and amount—is what separates an average athlete from an exceptional one.
Essentially, the quality and amount of sleep athletes get is often the key to winning. This is because quality sleep helps rest the mind. Being physically rested might help an athlete make the play, but being mentally rested will help that player make the right play. As such, sleep becomes a crucial pillar of success due to its nature in affecting athletic performance.
SLEEP AFFECTS ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
Sleep determines an athletes ability to perform by affecting:
- Reaction times
- Motor functions
- Stress regulation
- Muscle recovery
- Muscle glycogen
- Glucose metabolism,
- Memory and learning
- Injury risk
- Illness rates
- And unwanted weight gain
The list could go on. More and more athletes and their coaches are learning that sleep has a big impact on performance, wins, and losses. Some of the greatest athletes known today make sleep a priority, especially before big competitions.
FAMOUS ATHLETES WHO PRIORITIZE SLEEP AND WIN
USAIN BOLT – TRACK
Sleeps 8 – 10 hours per night. “Sleep is extremely important to me — I need to rest and recover in order for the training I do to be absorbed by my body”
ROGER FEDERER – TENNIS
Owning an all-time record of 17 Grand Slam Titles… “If I don’t sleep 11-12 hours a day, it’s not right.”
TOM BRADY – AMERICAN FOOTBALL
Likes getting in 8 hours, going to bed during the season at 830pm (often before his kids) and rising at 530am.
SERENA WILLIAMS – TENNIS
39 time Grand Slam tennis winner reached her tenth Wimbledon final only 10 months after giving birth which she contributes to her unwavering sleep schedule
CHRISTIANO RONALDO – SOCCER
Likes to sleep 8 hours a night, throwing in several naps a day (up to five).
“We’re teaching our players: Sleep is a weapon.”— Sam Ramsden, Dir. of Player Health and Performance, Seattle Seahawks
But just because you aren’t a professional athlete doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them.
Just like training to improve your athletic performance, you can also train to improve your sleep. Establishing a regular sleep schedule and routine can go a long way to helping you stay strong and healthy so you can excel at your favourite physical activities.
5 Tips to Help Improve Your Sleep:
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Both can cause or trigger certain sleep disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia especially when consumed after 12pm.
- Limit the late-night lifting. Vigorous workouts can raise stress levels which impairs sleep. Working out right before bed might increase your sleep latency—the time it takes to fall asleep.
- Drink only enough fluids to maintain proper hydration. You don’t want a full bladder to wake you during the night!
- Turn off the screens. TVs and smartphones emit blue light, which suppresses the melatonin levels that make us sleepy. Put down the game, consider staying off social media, and keep your bedroom dark and quiet.
- Take a nap. Sleep benefits are cumulative, so naps can help you recover from a previous night of poor sleep or waking up early for training sessions, but don’t think naps are the solution.
Finally, invest in helpful sleeping aids, such as a weighted blanket. The perfect weighted blanket can go a long way to improving your sleep. Not only that, weighted blankets have been known to speed up athletic recovery.