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Sleep, Sports Performance, and Recovery

Are you getting enough sleep? Sleep is often overlooked in regards to it’s influence over athletic performance. We want to share with you the latest research and show how you can up your game with sleep.

Athletes often have the added stress of time management. Being able to balance social, mental, and physical health is very important for anyone’s well-being. Sleep is important because it can have an influence on all three of those points. 

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Importance of Sleep for Sports Performance and Recovery 

Sleep is a common topic in regards to it’s strong influence over health, sports performance, and recovery time. I want to talk about some of the current research and discuss why sleep is important, summarize the concerns on sleep deprivation, and discuss how to improve your quality of sleep. Links to each article referenced will be highlighted in the paragraphs below if you’d like to read more in-depth about it!

How Does Sleep Affect Sport?

First, let’s discuss what parts of your performance sleep can have an influence over. It has been shown that having the right amount of sleep per day can have a postive influence on reaction time, accuracy in sport, endurance, submaximal strength, and vigor. Lack of sleep has shown negative effects on judgment and decision-making. 

According to a 2019 literature review by Vitale et al, “sleep extension can positively affect reaction times, mood, sprint times, tennis serve accuracy, swim turns, kick stroke efficiency, and increase free throw and 3-point accuracy “. Another 2017 article by Pallesen et al studied the effects of sleep on soccer skills. The testing revealed that lack of sleep had a negative effect on a kicking test and 30m sprints with directional changes. 

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Sleep and Its Influence on Recovery 

Let’s discuss recovery times. 

In regards to recovery time, according to the 2017 literature review by Copenhaver and Diamond, “people with sleep deficiency are at risk for acute illnesses, traumatic sports injuries, and development of chronic disease”. The article also discusses how having early morning or very late training times can disrupt circadian and homeostatic rhythms.  

Getting the proper amount of sleep is crucial for allowing the body heal. In order to have positive progress in sport the body has to be pushed. Pushing the body can only go so far before it has to recover. Getting enough sleep gives the body enough time and energy to recover. To keep up with the demands of sport athletes need enough sleep, without it they risk an increase chance of injury.

ACL Reconstruction Meeting Sleep and Psychological Factors 

A cohort study by Khalladi et al showed how after an ACL reconstruction surgery “athletes that had lower scores of anxiety and insomnia at baseline were more likely to meet return to play criteria”. Reviewing the sleep patterns of athletes before and after ACL reconstruction surgery can be influential on return to play timing and how much the athlete will adhere to their rehabilitation program. Further research on this topic still needs to be done, but it is a good starting point and quality of sleep should be discussed.

How to Improve Sleep for Sports Recovery and Performance

Parents, coaches, and athletes should be educated on the importance of sleep on overall health, recovery, and performance. Training times should be adjusted to allow for adequate sleep. There are many ways to improve sleep. Limiting blue light exposure, developing a sleeping routine, nutrition, room temperature, and stress management are a few methods. The use of earplugs and eye masks may also have a positive effect on sleep quality. 

Other ways to improve sleep include stress management, relaxation practice, consistent sleep hygiene, and exercise. 

Recovery from Competition and Training Strategies 

A systematic review and meta-analysis by Altarriba-Bartes et al reviews post-competition recovery strategies in elite-male soccer players. The article uses specific recovery strategies including wearing compression garments after a match, acute sleep hygiene, and cold water immersion. Overall significant positive effects were seen on jumping performance and had positive effects on muscle damage and recovery. 

Can Napping Help or Harm My Sport Performance and Recovery?

There are many questions that come to mind when thinking about taking a nap and its influence on performance and recovery. How long should it be, what time of day, or before or after a workout? I hope to have some of these questions answered for you. 

A 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis was written by Dutheil et al. which reviews the positive effect of day-time napping in the afternoon and how it effects cognitive performance. Although this study specifically looked at cognitive function in the workplace, it is still pertinent to athletes since their cognitive function is constantly challenged both in sport and as they develop through their academic career. 

According to two other studies: Study 1, Study 2 

Athletes should consider napping between 20-90 minutes and between the hours of 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm. They should also wake up at least 30 minutes before competition or training to prevent sleep inertia. Napping length can be utilized for what type of positive effects are being sought after. A short nap for example has been shown to improve frequent decision making and brief periods of effort. Therefore shorter naps should be considered before competition. Whereas longer naps can be used as an opportunity to reduce muscle damage and oxidative damage. Therefore longer naps can be helpful for endurance sports and after strenuous exercise.

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