Improve Your Sleep to Improve Athletic Performance

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A study published in 2016 set out to increase awareness of the importance of sleep for maximum athletic performance by researching the impact of sleep on performance, the relationship between sleep and physical health, and strategies for optimizing sleep in athletes. Here is what the study revealed.


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Athletes more likely to experience poor sleep

As pointed out by researchers, athletes are more likely to get less sleep and experience lower sleep quality compared to non-athletes. This could be because athletes may not be making sleep a priority. Training schedules, traveling to competitions, jet lag, and pre-competition anxiety can all negatively impact sleep, too.


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How sleep loss affects physical performance

Researchers found that athletes need to exert additional effort to compensate for sleep loss, yet performance is still reduced. Studies suggest this may be due to an observed reduction in glycogen stores in muscles before exercise after just one night of sleep deprivation. Researchers also highlighted studies that found a single night of partial sleep loss can increase heart rate and oxygen consumption.


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Sleep loss affects athletic accuracy

Researchers also identified studies that found a reduction in sleep duration reduced serving accuracy among tennis players and reduced throwing accuracy. Basketball players who improved their sleep duration enjoyed an increase in free-throw accuracy and tennis players who got more sleep improved their serving accuracy.


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Can naps aid athletic performance?

Results here were mixed. One small study found a 30-minute nap following a night of reduced sleep improved sprint times, but a larger study involving ultra-endurance cyclers found that a nap period during a race had no impact on race time. A separate study has linked frequent naps with type 2 diabetes.


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Mild sleep loss affects athletic performance

The authors of the study pointed out that even mild sleep loss (getting between four and five hours of sleep compared to between seven and eight hours of sleep) led to a deterioration of speed, endurance, and performance accuracy among athletes. This suggests that sleep plays a major role in peak performance.


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How sleep loss affects attention and thinking

Researchers identified a number of studies that found sleep loss had a negative effect on attention, and that catching up on sleep does not immediately improve athletic performance. Sleep loss was also found to have a negative impact on the higher level thinking responsible for strategy formation and decision making.  Just one night of sleep loss was found to reduce the ability to avoid making impulsive or risky decisions.


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How sleep loss affects injury risk

The study also found that insufficient sleep increased injury risk. Researchers highlighted one study which found teenagers who slept less than eight hours per night were nearly twice as likely to experience a significant injury compared to those who slept for longer than eight hours. This increased injury risk may be due to the way insufficient sleep affects reaction times and cognitive ability.


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How sleep loss affects illness risk

Researchers stated that an increasing amount of evidence suggests that sleep helps protect against illness. They highlighted one study which found that those who slept less than seven hours per night prior to being inoculated with a dose of active cold virus were three times more likely to develop a cold compared to those who slept for eight hours or longer.


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How to improve your sleep

Sleep disturbances may be a symptom of over-training. However, if you have a responsible training routine and are still suffering from poor sleep, there are some steps you can take. Make sure you are allotting an appropriate amount of time for sleep. Maintain healthy sleep habits by keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and comfortable, and use it only for sleep and sexual activity. Finally, seek medical advice if your sleep does not improve.