The Importance of Sleep for Athletes

Posted by Mark Aramli on


It is said that professional athletes figuratively “eat, sleep and breathe” their sport, but many players are starting to take that second point a bit more literally. Between hectic travel schedules, early morning practices, and late night games, sleep is often pushed to the sidelines.

However, recent studies have proven that a good night’s sleep is directly linked to recovery and performance, making it key to athletic success.  Both doctors and athletic trainers are now promoting sleep to be just as important to our health as exercise and nutrition.  From top performing superstars such as the New York Jets to the everyday individual, sleep is a key ingredient in recovery.

Sleep and Muscle Recovery

After eight hours of sleep, there is a reason you feel better prepared for the day, both physically and mentally. During sleep, your body cycles through various stages, including REM and non-REM sleep. When you fall into stages three and four of the non-REM cycles, you enter what is called slow wave sleep.

While in slow wave sleep, your breathing deepens and your blood pressure drops, increasing the blood supply to your muscles. As this takes place, the blood flow delivers restorative oxygen and cells to the muscles and tissue, aiding in muscle recovery and growth. Growth hormones are released during slow wave sleep, providing the body with the tools it needs to recover.

When the sleep cycle is interrupted or cut short, the body does not have the opportunity to deliver these key nutrients to recovering muscles. By depriving the body of sleep, not only do muscles and tissue miss the nutrients they need to heal and grow, but the body is also at risk for reduced exercise ability and loss of muscle mass due to the lack of hormones.

Sleep & Mental Ability

Just as non-REM sleep is crucial to physical recovery, REM sleep is essential for mental recovery. Although one might not immediately associate mental acuteness with athleticism, being mentally on the ball is one of the most critical keys to success. From memorizing playbooks to keeping stress levels low with only two seconds left on the clock, the mental recovery that takes place during sleep drastically improves athletic performance.

The National Sleep Foundation reported that sleep is responsible for functions such as “memory and attention, complex thought, motor response and emotional control.” Even the most athletic bodies are rendered useless if they lack the ability to make split second decisions or maintain high-functioning motor responses. By getting an adequate amount of sleep, the body is able to mentally prepare for the demands of the sport.

Sleep and Exercise Recovery

Another reason sleep is crucial to athletic recovery is because it keeps athletes on the court or field as opposed to the doctor’s office. Studies have shown that lack of sleep is the highest indicator of athletic injuries, even above grueling practices or the physical demands of the game.

Slow reaction times, weakened immune systems, and insufficient hormone production caused by a lack of sleep are directly tied to sports injuries, hindering athletes’ ability to play. In a study conducted by the NBA, athletes who received enough sleep experienced 60% fewer injuries and 54% less sickness. Sometimes the best way to recover is to arm the body with the preventative ammunition it needs to stay strong and healthy.

Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Although there is an abundance of physical and mental benefits of sleep, the negative consequences of sleep deprivation can be even more detrimental. Not only does the body miss out on essential growth hormones, but harmful side effects can also disrupt athletic performance.

A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania concluded that those who did not get a restful night of sleep “reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad and mentally exhausted.” In addition to higher stress and agitation, overall cognitive function decreases when the body does not receive enough sleep.

A shocking study organized by researchers at Stanford University found that individuals who received a below-average amount of sleep scored as low on reaction-based tests as those who were intoxicated by the standard of many states.

Elite athletes wouldn’t consume alcohol the night before a game, let alone during the main event. However, the impact of sleep deprivation can yield similar results, making sleep imperative to high-level performance.

Putting it to the Test: Andre Iguodala

A sleep tracking technology group put the benefits of sleep for recovery to the test with NBA’s Golden State Warrior, Andre Iguodala. After receiving over eight hours of sleep, Iguodala’s game-day performance increased drastically.

Just some of the astounding results included a 29% increase in points per minute, a 9% increase in free-throw percentage, a 45% decrease in fouls committed, and a 37% decrease in turnovers. Multiple athletes and studies have uncovered similar findings, linking a good night’s rest to recovery and optimum athletic performance.

How Much Sleep Do Athletes Need?

From all-star athletes to Average Joes, sleep is critical to recovery. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get anywhere from seven to nine hours a sleep per night, with teenagers at nine and a half hours.

However, many athletic experts recommend that athletes sleep for at least nine hours per night. Due to the physical and mental rejuvenation that takes place during both REM and non-REM stages, sleep is the most essential element to athletic recovery.

This is why the New York Jets started using BedJet to help their athletes sleep better during intensive summer training camp.  The New York Jets athletic department purchased BedJet machines to issue to their star players and returned back for a second round of BedJets after very positive feedback.

BedJet’s climate control system for beds creates the perfect sleep environment with on-demand cooling, warming, and night sweat management.  With temperature control, the players get better sleep, allowing their muscles to recover faster and making them less prone to injuries. Watch the video below!