Not Getting Enough Sleep?

by Jennifer Tetrick June 29, 2016


Being athletes, we pour everything we have into our training. We eat and drink right (or at least try to), and when it comes to our workouts, we put in the hours, working to improve our health and fitness, driven by the same competitive mindset that brought us to sport in the first place. 

Yet when it comes to sleep, we don’t often do as well. A study published in the Journal of SportsSciences found that one in four professional athletes suffered from significant sleep problems,¹ while 10% of the general population report ongoing insomnia (and 25% of people say they don’t get enough sleep).² The fact is, we live in a sleep deprived world. While it may not seem as challenging as a big workout, quality sleep can make all the difference when it comes to performance.

The good news is small adjustments can be made to resolve sleep deprivation. Some of these include using melatonin to help keep your body on a healthy schedule, avoiding screen time before bedtime, staying on a consistent schedule and limiting caffeine intake.

Sleep matters.

“If you told an athlete you had a treatment that would reduce the chemicals associated with stress, that would naturally increase human growth hormone, that enhances recovery rate, that improves performance, they would all do it. Sleep does all of those things.”

— Casey Smith, Head Athletic Trainer, Dallas Mavericks

When we sleep, our body repairs itself. For athletes, this restoration helps heal tired muscles, restore hormonal balance, and ultimately improve performance. Without quality sleep, we can’t train as hard, think as fast or recover like we should.³ And to add insult to injury (literally in some cases), in addition to underperforming, sleep deprivation often results in overeating.⁴

The following are just some areas sleep affects athletes:


Sleep deprivation was found to have a significant effect on athletes’ ability to make split-second decisions. Just one sleepless night can limit reaction times as much as 300%. Even low levels of fatigue were found to have similar effects as being legally drunk. Needless to say, this can have a significant impact on performance, from reacting to the start gun to making key game-time decisions.⁵


Our cells regenerate while we sleep. So, interrupted sleep means less adaptation. We are often made familiar with the dangers of “overtraining” - when our body becomes so fatigued that it can no longer adapt or make gains from workouts and begins getting weaker instead of stronger. Sleep deprivation has the same consequences, capping our ability to train at the same volume and intensity as we could otherwise.⁶

As an example, a research team at Stanford University found that seven weeks of extended sleep, the basketball team logged 5% faster sprint times and a 9% better free-throw average.⁷ Conversely, another study found that after just 4 days of restricted sleep, weightlifters’ maximum bench press dropped 20lbs.⁸


Limited sleep reduces our ability to store, convert and metabolize glucose as an energy source. Essentially that means your body will have less energy to use for strenuous workouts or competition.


Lack of sleep also triggers the endocrine system to produce higher levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone”), which means on top of all the physiological results from sleep deprivation, athletes will be dealing with the side effects of stress. Irritable, under-performing athletes aren’t exactly a winning combination.⁹

Often considered a luxury in our busy society, sleep may seem like the most basic of tasks, but its impact is far-reaching, particularly for athletes seeking optimal performance. Whether we’re at the top of our athletic game - or in it for our personal goals, sleep helps us put our best foot forward and achieve our best results, in life and in sport.




¹ Sleep Disorders More Common In Professional Athletes, But Simple Treatment Can Help Them Rest Up And Sleep Better
Medical Daily (2016)
² Sleep and Sleep Disorders 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015)  
³ 5 areas sleep has the greatest impact on athletic performance 
Fatigue Science (2015)
⁴ Study Explains Why Lack of Sleep Gives You the Munchies
NBC (2016) 
⁵ Sleep and athletic performance
Fatigue Science (2015) 
⁶ 7 Essential Elements of Rest and Recovery
Breaking Muscle (2016) 
Can Sleep Improve Your Athletic Performance 
Web MD (2015) 
Why athletes should make sleep a priority in their daily training 
Fatigue Science (2013)  
Sleep loss results in an elevation of cortisol levels the next evening.
National Institutes of Health (1997)

Jennifer Tetrick
Jennifer Tetrick


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