Sleep is an essential component of health and well-being. It impacts our physical development, cognitive performance, emotional regulation and quality of life. It is an important part of recovery and it is the adaptive process between training periods. Evidence suggests that increased sleep improves performance and competitive success. Despite this, studies have shown that athletes fail to obtain the recommended amounts of sleep, threatening both performance and health. (Watson, 2017).
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), the recommended amount of sleep that adults need for optimal health and performance is between 7 – 9 hours, while adolescents require more at around 8 – 10 hours. (Watson et al., 2015). (Paruthi et al., 2016).
The amounts of sleep people need greatly vary day to day. This can be down to illness, sleep debt, physiological and/or psychological stress. The duration of sleep is only one factor and the importance of sleep quality has been increasingly recognised as a vital element of health and well-being. (Bird, 2013). It has been suggested that athletes need more sleep than inactive people to allow for recovery and adaptation from exercise, perhaps requiring closer to 9 – 10 hours rather than the 7 – 9 hours stated for optimal health. (Bird, 2013).
Sleep and Performance
Several studies of team sports have shown the teams that had better sleep the night before and during a competition had a better performance than those who hadn’t. One such study followed 42 adult netball athletes who measured their sleep using a combination of wrist actigraphy and sleep journals. The two teams with the highest placement in the tournament had significantly greater sleep duration. (Brandt, Bevilacqua and Andrade, 2017). (Juliff et al., 2018).
While this seems to show that better sleep helps with competitive success, this has only been studied at length within team sports and not so much in individual competitive events.
Endurance and Anaerobic Power
Looking at the studies between sleep and performance, it is clear that specific mechanisms for the association between sleep and performance are not well defined. When looking at studies about endurance, the evidence seems to suggest that sleep deprivation can lead to a decrease in performance. One night of sleep loss showed a decreased time to exhaustion in a group of volleyball players. (Azboy and Kaygisiz, 2009). In a single night of disturbed sleep, a 3km time trail for a group of cyclists was slower by 4% the next day. This suggests that restricted sleep may impair recovery between strenuous bouts of exercise. (Chase et al., 2017).
The effect of sleep on anaerobic power is less clear, the evidence seems to be split on how sleep deprivation affects performance. Using the Wingate test, mean and peak power output decreased after 36 hours of sleep deprivation and after a night of sleep restriction in athletes (Souissi et al., 2003). On the other hand, no differences were observed in mean or peak power in student athletes after complete sleep deprivation or 4 hours of sleep restriction in highly trained athletes. (Mougin et al., 1996).
This is an area that needs more research although there is evidence that shows sleep deprivation decreases muscle glycogen stores and this would have an effect on performance in anaerobic and endurance events. (SKEIN et al., 2011).
Speed and Strength-based activities
There are a lot of conflicting studies on sleep deprivation and performance in speed and strength sports. Some showed slower mean times after 30 hours sleep deprivation and some showed improvements on sprint test times. (SKEIN et al., 2011), (Mah, Mah, Kezirian and Dement, 2011). In weightlifting, a study showed that maximal load decreased after three consecutive nights of 3 hours sleep. (REILLY and PIERCY, 1994). However, one night of total sleep deprivation had no effect on collegiate weightlifters. (Blumert et al., 2007).
It has been suggested that small amounts of sleep deprivation don’t have such an impact on short events like sprinting and weightlifting. (Fullagar et al., 2014).
Accuracy and Reaction Times
Sleep deprivation and even minimal amounts of sleep have consistently been shown to impair accuracy in athletic events, whereas accuracy has been found to improve after sleep extension. Compared to a full night’s sleep, dart throwing accuracy decreased significantly after a single night of 4 – 5 hours sleep. (Edwards and Waterhouse, 2009). Similarly, a single night of 5 hours sleep compared to a full night’s sleep in tennis players showed a decrease of 53% in the accuracy of their serve. (Reyner and Horne, 2013).
Compare this to other studies and it suggests that sleep deprivation or sleep restriction will decrease accuracy and agility, while sleep extension will help increase both. (Schwartz and Simon, 2015).
The evidence suggests that sleep optimisation can have a significant influence on performance across a range of athletic activities. Improvements in sleep appear to improve endurance, accuracy and reaction times, while the effects on sprinting, power and strength sports remains an important area for more research. In addition, poor sleep seems to increase the risk of injury and illness, reducing training availability and overall health.
Azboy, O. and Kaygisiz, Z., 2009. Effects of sleep deprivation on cardiorespiratory functions of the runners and volleyball players during rest and exercise. Acta Physiologica Hungarica, 96(1), pp.29-36.
Bird, S., 2013. Sleep, Recovery, and Athletic Performance. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 35(5), pp.43-47.
Blumert, P., Crum, A., Ernsting, M., Volek, J., Hollander, D., Haff, E. and Haff, G., 2007. The Acute Effects of Twenty-Four Hours of Sleep Loss on the Performance of National-Caliber Male Collegiate Weightlifters. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(4), p.1146.
Brandt, R., Bevilacqua, G. and Andrade, A., 2017. Perceived Sleep Quality, Mood States, and Their Relationship With Performance Among Brazilian Elite Athletes During a Competitive Period. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(4), pp.1033-1039.
Chase, J., Roberson, P., Saunders, M., Hargens, T., Womack, C. and Luden, N., 2017. One night of sleep restriction following heavy exercise impairs 3-km cycling time-trial performance in the morning. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 42(9), pp.909-915.
Edwards, B. and Waterhouse, J., 2009. Effects of One Night of Partial Sleep Deprivation upon Diurnal Rhythms of Accuracy and Consistency in Throwing Darts. Chronobiology International, 26(4), pp.756-768.
Fullagar, H., Skorski, S., Duffield, R., Hammes, D., Coutts, A. and Meyer, T., 2014. Sleep and Athletic Performance: The Effects of Sleep Loss on Exercise Performance, and Physiological and Cognitive Responses to Exercise. Sports Medicine, 45(2), pp.161-186.
Juliff, L., Halson, S., Hebert, J., Forsyth, P. and Peiffer, J., 2018. Longer Sleep Durations Are Positively Associated with Finishing Place During a National Multiday Netball Competition. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 32(1), pp.189-194.
Mah, C., Mah, K., Kezirian, E. and Dement, W., 2011. The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players. Sleep, 34(7), pp.943-950.
Mougin, F., Bourdin, H., Simon-Rigaud, M., Didier, J., Toubin, G. and Kantelip, J., 1996. Effects of a Selective Sleep Deprivation on Subsequent Anaerobic Performance. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 17(02), pp.115-119.
Paruthi, S., Brooks, L., D’Ambrosio, C., Hall, W., Kotagal, S., Lloyd, R., Malow, B., Maski, K., Nichols, C., Quan, S., Rosen, C., Troester, M. and Wise, M., 2016. Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine on the Recommended Amount of Sleep for Healthy Children: Methodology and Discussion. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 12(11), pp.1549-1561.
REILLY, T. and PIERCY, M., 1994. The effect of partial sleep deprivation on weight-lifting performance. Ergonomics, 37(1), pp.107-115.
Reyner, L. and Horne, J., 2013. Sleep restriction and serving accuracy in performance tennis players, and effects of caffeine. Physiology & Behavior, 120, pp.93-96.
Schwartz, J. and Simon, R., 2015. Sleep extension improves serving accuracy: A study with college varsity tennis players. Physiology & Behavior, 151, pp.541-544.
SKEIN, M., DUFFIELD, R., EDGE, J., SHORT, M. and MÜNDEL, T., 2011. Intermittent-Sprint Performance and Muscle Glycogen after 30 h of Sleep Deprivation. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 43(7), pp.1301-1311.
Souissi, N., Sesboüé, B., Gauthier, A., Larue, J. and Davenne, D., 2003. Effects of one night’s sleep deprivation on anaerobic performance the following day. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 89(3), pp.359-366.
Watson, A., 2017. Sleep and Athletic Performance. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 16(6), pp.413-418.
Watson, N., Badr, M., Belenky, G., Bliwise, D., Buxton, O., Buysse, D., Dinges, D., Gangwisch, J., Grandner, M., Kushida, C., Malhotra, R., Martin, J., Patel, S., Quan, S. and Tasali, E., 2015. Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society on the Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: Methodology and Discussion. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 11(08), pp.931-952.