Proper Sleeping Habits for Athletes

Proper Sleeping Habits for Athletes

The importance of proper sleeping habits for athletes

In general, moderate exercise impacts sleep positively. However, in an analysis of over 1,600 studies, researchers found that athletes tended to suffer from poor quality sleep. Athletes took longer to fall asleep, woke up more often, had a hard time falling back asleep, and experienced non-restorative sleep and excessive daytime fatigue. When athletes consistently train at higher intensities (anything over 85% maximum intensity) they are vulnerable to sleep disturbances that impact both the quality of their performance and daily life.

Sleep recommendations for athletes

Overall, experts recommend that both older and younger people need an average of 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Athletes, on the other hand, can need up to 10 hours of sleep per night. While the data shows athletes need up to 10 hours of sleep per night, getting it can be difficult.

Athletes must train, and therefore healthy sleeping habits start with exercise programming. When programming for athletes, follow these guidelines to facilitate sleep, rest, and recovery:

  • High-intensity training can cause sleep problems. Use methods like mixed-intensity training to mitigate the effects of intensity on sleep.
  • Where possible, use lower volume training paradigms to decrease the overall intensity of a training program to improve quality of sleep.
  • Include adequate rest and recovery periods during and after training to avoid overtraining which can lead to sleep problems or make them worse.

Recommended course: Sleep Recommendations for Competitive Athletes

Improving Athletes' sleep after high-intensity training

To improve sleep during periods of high-intensity training, try these strategies:

  • Schedule high-intensity training sessions earlier in the day to allow overall arousal and body temperature to drop before bedtime.
  • Utilize cool-down routines after high-intensity training to signal to the body and mind to relax.
  • Maintain adequate hydration and proper nutrition. Avoid heavy meals late in the evening and stay hydrated throughout the day.
  • Include foods that contain tryptophan and promote sleep like turkey, nuts, and bananas.
  • Optimize the body’s natural circadian rhythm using light exposure, particularly natural daylight, to regulate and improve sleep-wake cycles.
  • Stay on a sleep schedule, even on weekends, to align sleep schedules with the body’s natural internal clock that monitors awake-rest cycles.
  • Create a sleep-specific environment, preferably in dark, cool, and quiet space utilized for sleep only.
  • To promote relaxation prior to bedtime, use relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or gentle stretches and sleep specific yoga poses.
  • Develop personalized sleep plans for athletes based on their training schedules, competition timings, and sleep needs.
  • Manage other sources of stress and anxiety and pay careful attention to training and competition stressors that might affect sleep.
  • Use strategic daytime napping to help compensate for sleep deficits, especially during periods of intensified training or travel related to training and competition. Napping can be the most effective way to improve cognitive and performance deficits related to sleep loss.
  • Emphasize the importance of sleep as a recovery tool after intense training.
  • Prioritize sleep during periods of intense training.

Sleep for athletes while on the road

Competition demands and travel related to training and competition can be stressful for athletes and trigger sleep issues. When traveling, use these strategies to improve sleep:

  • Leading up to a major competition, adjust sleep schedules to match the competition time zones.
  • Maintain current pre-bedtime routines.
  • Develop strategies ahead of travel to mitigate the effects of jet lag.

When lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep becomes a problem,

  • Maintain a sleep diary or use a wearable device to monitor and track sleep patterns. This helps to identify sleep patterns and disruptions related to high-intensity training.
  • Conduct a sleep assessment to identify any underlying sleep disorders like apnea or insomnia.
  • Develop a customized sleep intervention plan to combat individual sleep problems.
  • Consult a professional if sleep issues persist. Look for sleep specialists who can provide expert advice and, if necessary, prescribe treatments for sleep disorders.
  • Consider the need for a long-term recovery plan. Some sleep disorders are caused by overtraining. The athlete might be overtraining, and a longer rest period is recommended.

A multidisciplinary approach to athletes’ sleep hygiene

Remember that an athlete’s care and success require a team approach. Establish a collaborative team of coaches, trainers, and healthcare professionals to prioritize an athlete’s sleep as an integral part of training and recovery.

High-intensity training can have mixed effects on sleep. While it offers clear sleep benefits for most people, it can have negative effects for athletes over time. The timing and intensity of training sessions, as well as individual differences, can influence sleep outcomes. Athletes and their teams should pay attention to their bodies and adjust their training and recovery routines accordingly to optimize both their performance and sleep quality.

Sleep interventions designed to enhance athletic performance and recovery recognize the critical role that sleep plays in physical and cognitive functioning. Optimizing sleep can lead to improved athletic performance, faster recovery, reduced injury risk, and overall well-being.

Remember that each athlete is unique, and their sleep needs and preferences may vary. Implementing customized plans and interventions can help athletes achieve better sleep, perform better, recover faster, and can reduce the risk of injury. Just like training adaptations, sleep patterns change. It is important to continuously monitor and adjust interventions based on individual responses and changing training demands.

This article was written by Jami Cooley

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