Sleep duration is so crucial to performance that the US Army developed the use of mathematical models to gain an understanding of the biology of fatigue. Subsequently, the platform Fatigue Science has combined these models with information relevant to athletes. In their laboratories, the researchers on this platform, scientifically test the two together in order to forecast the incidence of fatigue correctly.

 Professional sports teams use the research they access from Fatigue Science to ensure that their athletes enjoy sufficient sleep. The coordinators of the schedules specifically allocate time for sleep which the team members incorporate into their training programs. Sleep duration is crucial to the quality of athletic performance. The fact that the most successful teams have organisers that take sleep so seriously as to implement a particular sleep schedule confirms this.



A person’s most recent sleeping pattern has a significant effect on cognitive abilities during the day. Fatigue Science notes that compared to athletes that sleep less, an athlete that has more sleep improves his ability to make instant decisions by over four percent. The faster the sport, the quicker the decisions must be made. Tennis players who sleep well, effectively hit more accurately by forty-two per cent.

When comparing the impact that lack of sleep has on reaction time, it is linked to an alcohol level of 0.05% BAC.

Sleep quality has an impact on learning. Lack of sleep inhibits the ability of the athlete to learn new techniques that require both motor coordination and performance. Forming a new memory is part of learning. The early stages of the sleep cycle coordinate muscle memory. Muscle recall enables the athlete to perform movements without thinking about it.

 Sleep provides the mind with the opportunity to organise, clear and coordinate the data it takes on board during the day — a lack of sleep influences the ability to make good decisions. During his performance, an athlete continually has to make crucial decisions and smaller or greater adjustments based on those decisions.


An athlete suffering from lack of sleep is also lacking in motivation. The emotional state of a sleep deficient athlete is vulnerable, and he consequently suffers more stress. Sufficient sleep is required for the body to manage stressful events effectively. Sleep deprivation negatively impacts the emotional and mental state of all athletes. Without enough sleep, there is an increased risk for anxiety and depression.



In 1981 Shapiro et al. researched the sleep patterns of six athletes before and after a ninety-two-kilometre marathon. The study’s principal investigator was Scott Kutscher, M.D. The investigation lasted for four nights after the race. It revealed that there is a tendency to sleep substantially more post marathon on all of those four nights. Muscle pain causes some restlessness on the night of the marathon. The study confirmed that good sleep is crucial for post-athletic event recovery.

 Fatigue Science confirms that athletes at the top of their game consider sufficient sleep to be one of their main priorities. Many well-known sports heroes get eleven to twelve hours of sleep per night. The sprinter, Usain Bolt, is the first man in history to win six Olympic gold medals in this particular sport. Sleeping well forms a part of his main strategies for success.


In the research of Shapiro et al., the researchers state that sleep shortage must amount to over thirty consecutive hours to negatively impact anaerobic activity. Aerobic exercise lapses after a sleep deficit of twenty-four consecutive hours. There is a more significant impact made by a sleep deficit on a sport that requires continuous or repeated effort as opposed to one where there is a singular exertion. Even so, another study shows that weightlifters that are sleep deprived for over four days, see a reduction in their bench presses by over ten kilograms.

The most significant problems arise when an athlete limits his sleep to below optimal for four or more successive nights. Lack of sleep is usually immediately evident when an athlete performs. The ability of the body systems to function optimally decreases. Deteriorations of the efficiency of glucose metabolism and the immune system become apparent.  Consequently, it is evident that adults must ideally sleep eight hours per night for optimal hormone function. Athletes require more extended periods of sleep for training and recovery to be the most effective.


Researchers at a University in California confirmed that injury levels increase after a night of under six hours sleep. Another study ascertained that sleep duration is a critical factor. Athletes are more likely to sustain injuries when spending less time sleeping. Extended training hours have less of a negative impact on the likelihood of injuries than does the loss of sleep.

 The reasons are threefold. As mentioned earlier, tiredness compromises the ability to react quickly. A sleep-deprived athlete responds more slowly to a potential collision with another team member or a hit from a ball. Secondly, sleeplessness reduces immunity. Studies show that people having less than seven hours of sleep are three times more likely to develop a cold. The intense training schedule of a professional athlete means that he is even more likely to become ill as a result of a sleep deficit. Finally, during intensive training, the body requires even more sleep to repair cells and to restore homeostasis.

 Compounding issues as a result of a shortage of sleep lead to an athlete spending more time on the bench. Often participation hours will be less.


 One way of ascertaining the effect of sleep patterns on athletes is to observe the results of increasing sleeping hours. Six basketball players were a part of this particular study. After two weeks of improved sleep, the results were significant. The research found that as a result of improved sleep, the athletes experience an elevated emotional state. Energy levels rise, and general tiredness is non- existent. Recorded times for sprinting athletes increased, and the precision of throws increased for field athletes. Researchers gathered similar data from professional swimmers. The more hours of sleep a swimmer gets the better his performance.


Professor Jim Horne from Loughborough University states that our bodies do best on two sleep periods a day. Early afternoon is when energy decreases. Lunchtime is the perfect time for a nap to improve focus and performance for the afternoon. The New York Times published an article confirming that many countries around the world commonly implement a two-sleep per day routine.

 In 2007, Waterhouse et al. were amongst the few who officially explored the benefits of a half-hour midday nap. The study focused on situations where the previous night of sleep was in deficit by four hours. The investigation showed that a twenty-meter sprint improved after a nap as compared to a sleepless night not followed by a nap. The conclusion was that napping is useful for those athletes compelled to wake up early for training or competitions. Napping is also beneficial for athletes suffering from sleep deprivation.

 In conclusion, research shows sleep is crucial for the proper functioning of body systems. Consequently, A below optimal amount of sleep negatively impacts athletic performance. Performance requiring a sustained effort is primarily affected. Increasing the average number of sleep hours from eight to ten or eleven greatly benefits athletic performance. Napping to supplement occasional sleep deficits enhances performance.

Sleeping tips for athletes 

Sleep between ten to twelve hours per night and focus on creating an environment that promotes good sleep.Ensure the bedroom is of optimal temperature and use blackout curtains. Use a humidifier at home during the drier seasons. A light environmental humidity promotes deep sleep. In the event of travelling, comfortable eye masks and earplugs are essential.

 Implement an efficient and relaxing pre-bedtime routine. Establish the same set time to go to bed and to wake up every day. When away for a game, adhere to that routine as much as is possible. The quality of your performance depends on it.

 Do not consume caffeine and energy drinks for five to seven hours before bedtime.  These drinks disturb the body’s natural ability to keep hormones at optimal levels.


Avoid watching television or using the PC while in or on the bed. Associations are important. Your body must associate the bed with rest and sleeping, not admin tasks.

When in bed make sure that you do not keep your eye on the clock. Keep the watch out of sight, even more so if it is digital. Go to bed with enough time to have a full night’s sleep before the alarm goes off.


To avoid needing the bathroom during the night, drink very little fluid after the two hours before bedtime. Drink sufficient water during the day between meals. Consuming water during mealtimes is not a good idea.  A well-hydrated body and a  calm digestive system is paramount to a good night’s sleep.

 Be sure to take regular naps. A full sleep cycle is ninety minutes long. In the first twenty minutes, the sleeper sleeps lightly. Some athletes thrive on a twenty-minute nap while others might require a whole hour and a half. To avoid sleeplessness at night, keep any daytime naps to a maximum of ninety minutes. End the rest within seven hours before bedtime or within two hours of an athletic event.

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