Take Home Points
A frequent and generalized recommendation is that athletes need at least 7–9 hours of sleep per day. This blanket statement is questionable as individual variability exists. Athletes need more sleep for recovery and restoration, because of high training loads and competitions stress. Young athletes that use heavy training may need up to 10 hours sleep per night. A good approach is for athletes to sleep for the amount of time that is required to feel awake and alert throughout the following day.
Teaching youth athletes the importance of sleep is necessary and something we discuss during the sports screening.
1. Sleep Routines and Habits
Ensure going to bed and waking up around the same times each day. This helps form a regular sleep routine, which promotes good-quality sleep. Avoid bad sleep habits, such as watching television or using a computer in bed. Some good ideas to do before you go to bed is reading, meditating and mobility. It is important that an athlete’s sleep environment facilitates positive sleep habits.
Naps can have physiological and perceptual improvements. Newark (2012) suggested that naps be limited to around 30 minutes and be avoided in the late afternoon/evening. Although napping may provide an opportunity to repay sleep debt, it is important that time is allowed to overcome sleep inertia (the short-term impairment in wakefulness when woken). Reilly and Edwards (2007) showed that the benefits of napping depend on their timing and duration, prior wake time, setting, and individual differences.
3. Training and Competition
Adequate recovery after training sessions enhances restoration of physiological and psychological processes. Reducing muscle soreness, inflammation, and pain may allow for improved sleep quality.
4. Pre-Sleep Worry and Anxiety
Elite athletes often worry while trying to sleep in response to training, competition, and/or lifestyle anxiety. Excessive worry and anxiety related to training and/or competition can impair sleep quality. Fletcher and Hanton (2001) suggested that psychological skills of relaxation, goal setting, imagery, and self-talk emerged as important in influencing the competitive anxiety response in athletes. Engaging athletes in a mental rehearsal of the optimal performance in their sport may sharpen an athlete’s focus and restore performance confidence. Relaxation techniques such as positive suggestion/creative visualization are recommended as part of the sleep routine to ensure a clear mind and relaxed state when going to bed. The following visualization therapy techniques for improved athletic performance are created by Newmark.
1. Ask the athlete to close their eyes and focus on letting go of all muscular tension, beginning with the top of the head, progressing then to the forehead, face, neck, back, abdomen, stomach, legs, and feet;
2. Simultaneously, have the athlete control their breathing, allowing his or her breathing to become slower and deeper;
3. Have the athlete describe their optimal performance if they were competing right now;
4. Reiterate the use of key words such as calm and confident, and relaxed and focused.
5. Sleep and Obesity
Although obesity and gaining weight are not a concern for most athletes, it is for some. Ensure you’re getting enough sleep for muscle growth, as not sleeping enough can increase stress and fat gain.
Sports Screening and Sleep
Sleep has been identified as an important aspect of recovery, but is often overlooked due to its simplicity. As elite athletes search for ways to maximize recovery from training and competition, improving sleep characteristics through the implementation of sleep hygiene strategies presents a practical intervention. Information about the current practice in elite sport is limited compared with other recovery modalities. Many athletes look to work harder, but understanding how to work smarter can further enhancement performance. Our sports screening discusses all these possible avenues for performance enhancement.
- Reilly T, Edwards B. Altered sleep–wake cycles and physical performance in athletes. Physiol Behav 90: 274–284, 2007.
- Newmark T. Cases in visualization for improved athletic performance. Psychiatr Ann 42: 385–387, 2012.
- Fletcher D, Hanton S. The relationship between psychological skills usage and competitive anxiety responses. Psychol Sport Exerc 2: 89–101, 2001.
- Jeffreys I. A multidimensional approach to enhancing recovery. Strength Cond J 27: 78–85, 2005.