Sleep and Athletic Performance – Campbell McIntosh

What does sleep do?

Allows your heart to rest and cells and tissue to repair.

  • This can help your body recover after physical exertion. Also, as you progress through the stages of sleep, the changes in your heart rate and breathing throughout the night promote cardiovascular health.

Can work to prevent illness or help you recover from illness.

  • During sleep, your body produces cytokines, which are hormones that help the immune system fight off infections.

How does sleep benefit athletes?

By increasing the quantity and quality of sleep athletes can improve their performance in many areas related to the demands of the sport.

  • A Stanford study of men’s basketball players who extended their sleep to 10 hours a night found several positive outcomes. The players ran faster in both half-court and full-court sprints. Their shooting improved by at least 9% for both free throws and three-point shots. The athletes also reported improved physical and mental well-being.
  • Male and female swimmers who extended their sleep to 10 hours also saw many performance improvements. Reaction times off diving blocks were faster9, turn times were improved, and kick strokes increased. Times swimming a 15-meter sprint also improved. Additionally, these athletes experienced improved mood and decreased daytime sleepiness and fatigue.
  • Varsity tennis players, male and female, who increased their sleep to at least nine hours a week also performed better. The accuracy of the players’ serves increased significantly10 from about 36% to nearly 42%. The players experienced less sleepiness as well.
  • Other studies of female netball players and male soccer players have demonstrated that sleep hygiene education helps athletes increase their overall sleep time. This adequate sleep before a competition is likely to encourage top performance.

Tips for building a sleep routine (Sleep Hygiene) for a good night of sleep

  • Create an appropriate sleep environment. Your sleeping space should be dark and cool with little to no noise.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bedtime. These beverages can interrupt sleep or lead to more disturbed sleep.
  • Stay away from electronics in the hours before bedtime. This includes TVs, cell phones, and computers. The blue light that these devices emit can affect your circadian rhythm.
  • Building a wind-down routine teaches your body that it is time for sleep. Activities such as reading, taking a bath, or meditating can help you relax and get ready for sleep.
  • Get out of bed if you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes of trying. Do a quiet activity in another space until you feel sleepy.

In addition to these sleep hygiene tips, other habits especially important for athletes are to:

  • Avoid overtraining. Keep a consistent training schedule so as not to overexert yourself.
  • Avoid training and competitions too early or too late. These can affect sleep quantity and quality, especially if your athletic schedule is inconsistent.
  • If you need to nap, keep it brief. Naps should be no more than an hour and not taken after 3 p.m.
  • Reduce stressors. Not only do mental stressors affect sleep quality, but they also impact performance overall.

Overall, we all need sleep but athletes with their increased training schedule should aim to get 9-10 hours of sleep most nights. If you can achieve the required amounts of sleep you should also see you performances improve in training and your sport.


MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine (US). (2020, April 16). Healthy Sleep. Retrieved June 7, 2022, from

Fry, A. (2022, April 13). Sleep Foundation. Retrieved from