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Can Sleep Improve Your Athletic Performance?

Larry Wagner provides some advice on how sleep, or lack of it, can impact your athletic performance.

Did you know that Cristiano Ronaldo, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner sleeps five times a day?

Other world-class athletes like Serena Williams and Lance Armstrong have also, at different phases of their careers, made a good night's sleep a priority. In the case of Cristiano, he was advised to follow a polyphasic sleep routine by sleep expert Nick Littlehales. Nick, while talking to the Sun, a UK-based news agency, shared how the superstar had to take 90-minute sleeps a day -- during his time with Real Madrid.

In today's world, where top-class athletes are willing to make massive sacrifices to succeed, a factor like sleep cannot be ignored. Not only the highest-paid athletes are making sleep a priority, but also the amateur ones are aware of the implications of sleep deprivation. This post is intended to arm a regular gym-goer or a marathon runner with vital insights about sleep.

How Does Sleep Affect Your Athletic Performance?

These days athletes are seen as the perfect specimen who invariably should perform as expected. Thanks to the latest discoveries like sports psychology and performance monitoring systems, they can stand up to the expectations of even those who never played the game. But what is the role of sleep in the competitive success of an athlete?

A study by Santa Catarina State University, Brazil, revealed how the quality of sleep in athletes influenced their mood states, subsequently affecting their performance in national and international sports competitions. The sleep experts examined the sleep quality and mood states in Brazilian elite athletes consisting of 404 men and 172 women.

The mood states were assessed by the Brunel Mood Scale, while the sleep quality was estimated by asking specific questions. Both measurements were done 60 minutes before a major sports competition. The researchers used several methods to evaluate the relationship between sleep quality and the mood states of the athletes.

Finally, they concluded that factors like sleep quality, anger, tension, and vigor were the ones that were the real indicators of an athlete's mental and physical state. Sleep deprivation, low intensity, and passivity lead to low athletic performance, whereas, high tension and anger increased the odds of winning.

Hence, a good night of sleep means a better mood the next day--which allows an athlete to draw the kind of mental states that are required to win the competition.

How Much Sleep Should Athletes Get?

According to the National sleep foundation, adolescents (aged 18-64) need 7-9 hours of uninterrupted and sound sleep. The ones who do not meet the requirements are more likely to suffer from dreadful symptoms of sleep deprivation. Athletes operate on a whole other level than regular people, and hence, their sleep requirements are also different.

A study by Gatorade Sports Science Insitute compared the sleep habits of 26 elite athletes from Olympic Sports using a technique known as actigraphy. The same number of non-athlete participants were asked to join the study. They were the control group. After four days, the researchers concluded that the athlete group slept about half an hour more than the control group.

However, the athlete participants had other sleep-related issues. They took 18-20 minutes more than the control group to fall asleep. Their overall sleep efficiency was 8 percent less than the ones in the control group. So what can an athlete do to meet the sleep requirements set by the National Sleep Association?

Well, the same study also indicates that an athlete is more likely to experience sleep disturbances during their regular training days and before a major competition. During their ordinary days, an athlete should not engage in coping habits like eating junk food at night, watching excessive television, consuming caffeinated beverages before bedtime, etc.

As far as the anxiety and worry before a major tournament are concerned, it is best to seek help from coaches and the medical staff. So, this is how the sleep requirements of an athlete differ from those of a regular person.

5 Better Sleep Tips for Athletes

1) Just like Cristiano Ronaldo, you can add a few sessions of short-duration sleep or naps to your daily schedule.

2) Do not extend a nap duration for more than 30 minutes. Sleeping more than necessary during the day can interfere with your sleep at night.

3) Avoid caffeinated beverages like coffee, energy drinks, and sodas before bedtime. No matter how tired you are--after a training session--do not seek comfort in psychoactive drugs.

4) Sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Try to maintain the same routine even on weekends.

5) Try to avoid technological devices one and half an hour before bedtime. Do not stare at the TV, phone, or tablet screens before going to bed.


Whether you are an athlete or a regular person, sleep is one of the most essential and necessary functions. The daily routine of an athlete is a lot more stressful and physically exhausting than a regular office worker, he/she needs more sleep. Better sleep improves athletic performance.

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  • WAGNER, L. (2020) Can Sleep Improve Your Athletic Performance? [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Larry Wagner is an SEO expert and a freelance journalist.