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How quality sleep can improve sport performance

Whether you’re a keen cyclist, a running enthusiast or love to play football, there’s no doubting how good quality sleep can improve your sporting performance, which in turn leads to better physical and mental health too. It’s surprising how losing just a small amount of sleep can hinder how you perform during exercise, so ensuring you get enough quality shut-eye is crucial for achieving your best sporting potential. Read on to discover how sleep affects sport performance and some top tips for creating a good sleeping environment for your best ever night’s sleep.

How does sleep affect sport performance?

Regular exercise improves cardiovascular health, increases lean muscle mass and improves endurance - all of which require quality sleep in order to happen. A bad night’s sleep doesn’t just make you feel tired, irritable and moody the next day, it has an impact on what’s happening inside your body too. The harder you have exercised the longer it takes to recover and sleep can play a vital role in this process.

Quality sleep provides you with the energy that’s needed during sport, and has many physical benefits, allowing your heart to rest and cells and tissues to repair, all helping your body to recover after exercise. Each one of us requires different amounts of sleep each night, but in order to get the most out of the next day, we all need to achieve different stages of sleep. Light sleep or Rapid Eye Movement (REM) is thought to be good for memory consolidation, while deep sleep or Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) is restorative sleep and where growth hormones are released, playing a part in the repair process. 

The more rested you are, the better your mind and body function, and that includes during sport too. Quality sleep improves mental health and gives you more motivation to help you stick to an exercise routine. What’s more, it leads to better concentration, mood and focus, all of which contributes to improved sport performance.

A number of studies have been carried out with results showing that increased quality sleep can improve performance, such as speed and accuracy, across a range of sports including tennis, swimming and basketball. For example, a study carried out on the Stanford University men's and women's swimming team found that by the athletes extending their sleep duration to 10 hours per night for 6-7 weeks, resulted in faster swim times, quicker reaction times off the blocks and improved turn time (1).

So, what happens when we don’t get enough sleep, how does this affect sport performance? Sleep deprivation reduces your ability to think clearly and react quickly, leads to poor decision making and risk taking and increases depression, anxiety and irritability - not a good mix during any kind of sport. A lack of sleep doesn't just affect your mind, there’s also physical effects too, such as an increased risk of medical conditions including high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Lack of good quality sleep also increases the risk of a sports related injury and extended recovery time. 

Tips for a good night’s sleep

Now you know how important sleep is for better exercise and improved sports performance, and in turn, regular exercise, whether aerobic or resistance, helps to improve sleep quality. So, you may be wondering what’s the best way to ensure a good night’s sleep, every night - here’s some top tips to help you sleep better.

Avoid exercising or playing any sport just before going to bed, and instead make the effort to get up early and enjoy some outdoor exercise, such as a morning walk or jog. Late night exercise raises your body temperature and increases stress hormones such as cortisol, prohibiting the production of melatonin and worsening any sleep problems you may have.

Try to get into a routine and go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time every morning, aiming for 7-8 hours worth of sleep. Being consistent with these times helps to reinforce your body’s sleep-wake cycle. If you find that you’re not falling asleep within 20 minutes, leave your bedroom and find something relaxing to do like reading or listening to some soothing music, and go back to bed when you’re tired.

It’s also not a good idea to climb into bed feeling hungry or full, and make sure to reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake, as they can wreak havoc on quality sleep. Eating at certain times helps to reinforce your body’s circadian rhythm and if you feel too full before getting into bed, your body will be busy digesting and getting energy from the food you’ve just eaten, which you don’t need when you’re sleeping. Alcohol prevents you from drifting into each sleep stage, and so your sleep is fragmented and lighter, while caffeine blocks certain receptors in the brain leaving you feeling awake for longer. 

Creating a calm and restful bedroom environment can go a long way towards promoting a better night’s sleep. Make sure your bedroom is cool, quiet and dark - the ideal room temperature is 19C. A bedroom that’s cool, encourages your body to drop to the core temperature required for a restful sleep.

The right mattress is important for comfort and quality sleep too, so if yours is more than 8 years old and is looking a little worse for wear, then it more than likely needs replacing. Whether you're a twister or turner, restless sleeper or just after pure luxury, there's a mattress that's perfectly suited for you at Silentnight.

It’s clear to see how quality sleep has a positive impact on sport performance and just how important it is for our overall health and wellbeing. Afterall, sleep is at the core of what everyone needs to feel restored and to function at our very best.

Author - Liz Tabron

Liz Tabron

Liz has over 7 years' experience in writing lifestyle, home, health, and eco content. Liz's mission is to make accessible our expert team's knowledge.