The Importance of Sleep for Performance
Sleep may not seem like a serious performance-enhancing tool but, ask any elite athlete and they will tell you, sleep is right up there in their importance rankings.
Whether they are elite performers who need sleep to aid recovery after seriously intense training sessions or school-aged athletes trying to cope with the demands of their sport on top of school work, getting enough good quality sleep can make a meaningful difference. For the latter, the ability to concentrate at school will likely be the first thing to suffer but other less obvious areas can also be affected, for example, when we are tired we tend to make poor food choices which for athletes, can become problematic.
Poor sleep the night before a competition is unlikely to significantly affect performance. In fact, many top athletes admit to poor sleep the night before big competitions, mainly due to nerves, anxiety, or excitement. So this issue affects them all, from grassroots to the very top. To avoid unnecessary stress and anxiety, it’s important your athlete understands that poor sleep due to pre-match/competition nerves is totally normal and is not something to worry about at all on the day.
Adequate good quality sleep can:
Help with focus, decision-making, and concentration.
Improve reaction time and reflexes.
Enhance motor skills and coordination.
Boost physical endurance and stamina.
Support emotional regulation and resilience.
Aid physical recovery.
The Importance of Sleep on Performance:
Sandy Wilson is a PhD student researching the impact of sleep on student-athletes. As a former Scotland international sprinter, Sandy knows firsthand the sleep-related struggles faced by athletes and parents.
Does a Lack of Sleep Impact Performance?
It's down to Your Athlete to Learn the Importance of Sleep:
How You Can Help
Encourage your athlete to develop a consistent sleep routine ie. go to bed and get up at the same time every day ... including weekends.
Remind them that poor sleep the night before a competition is unlikely to affect performance and is nothing to worry about! The last thing you want is for them to be travelling to an event/match, believing they’ll perform poorly because they slept badly the night before.
Take Home Point
Encouraging consistent sleep routines and creating a sleep-friendly environment are marginal gains that can contribute to improved performance.
As well as helping them to stay on top of everything, a healthy sleep routine will improve physical recovery, and reduce the risk of injury, ultimately helping sports performance itself. It can also help ensure they maintain a healthy diet as feeling tired is known to contribute towards poor food choices.
One-off ‘bad’ nights aren’t a problem but consistently bad sleep will impact concentration, performance, recovery, and wellbeing.
Even the best elite athletes sleep badly the night before big competitions. It’s normal and is nothing to worry about!
Importantly, good sleep supports mental wellbeing and contributes to healthy growth and development.
Our content is supported by the following evidence-based research:
Fox, J.L., Scanlan, A.T., Stanton, R. and Sargent, C., 2020. Insufficient sleep in young athletes? Causes, consequences, and potential treatments. Sports Medicine, 50(3), pp.461-470.
Marshall, G.J. and Turner, A.N., 2016. The importance of sleep for athletic performance. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 38(1), pp.61-67.
Suppiah, H.T., Swinbourne, R., Wee, J., Tay, V. and Gastin, P., 2021. Sleep characteristics of elite youth athletes: a clustering approach to optimize sleep support strategies. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 16(9), pp.1225-1233.
Thun, E., Bjorvatn, B., Flo, E., Harris, A. and Pallesen, S., 2015. Sleep, circadian rhythms, and athletic performance. Sleep medicine reviews, 23, pp.1-9.