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Guest Post from Amy Highland, sleep expert at  SleepHealth.org

Want to be more fit? Stay in bed.


It sounds counter intuitive, but sleep (and more of it) can support a healthy fitness lifestyle. When you get good sleep, you're not being lazy. You're being healthy and giving your body the restorative sleep you need to recover from the day's activities and perform at your best.

Why Athletes Need Sleep

Sleep deprivation can result in depletion of natural energy stores. So if you're short on sleep, you may see decreased performance, especially in high intensity or endurance events or training. Good sleep can support sufficient reaction time and athletic recovery. You're less prone to injury, and can have reduced stress and improved mental focus.


When you sleep, your body regenerates itself, which is critical for muscle recovery. When you don't sleep enough, your recovery time will be longer. You also need sleep to retain learned information, which can include not just visual and written information but muscle movements. Overall, you may notice a decline in performance without enough sleep.

A study (published in the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine in 2012) on sleep deprivation and how it affected reaction times and anaerobic performance in college students found that even mild sleep deprivation can negatively influence reaction time. In fact, staying up all night can double reaction times, similar to having a blood alcohol level of 0.05 percent. With slower reaction times, you may be more likely to get injured. In fact, a study of adolescents (published in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics in 2014) found that those who slept for less than eight hours were 1.7 times as likely to be injured as those who consistently slept 8 hours or more on a regular basis. 


Another study (published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine in 2013) examined sleep deprivation and Major League Baseball players and found sleep deprivation can have a negative effect on recovery time and can even cut an athletic career short. This occurs because when you're sleeping, your muscles and central nervous system recover from the day's activities. Rest is important for maintaining good performance and allowing muscles to grow.

A comprehensive review article on the topic of sleep and elite athlete performance was published in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep in 2018 and can be accessed HERE.  


In addition to physical support, getting sufficient sleep can help you keep your head in the game. A lack of sleep can negatively affect your ability to stay focused, manage stress, and maintain a positive outlook on your athletic activities.

Should You Sleep More?

Generally, you should be shooting for seven to nine hours of sleep each night as an adult.  Many adults fall short of that goal. But if you're going through training or have a particularly important event coming up, it might make sense for you to achieve that  level or even to add a couple hours of sleep each night.


Two extra hours of sleep each night may help athletes improve reaction times, speed, and accuracy. Adequate sleep is associated with better athletic performance, and can offer more recovery time when you're going through intense training.


If you're not able to sleep for about 10 hours at night, a nap could help. But keep in mind that you should limit naps to about 30 minutes or less. And it's a good idea to avoid naps in the late afternoon or evening, or right before training or competing.

Fitness Sleep Tips

·         Never sacrifice sleep for training. Early morning runs can be energizing, but not if you're skipping out on sleep to do them. If you want to exercise early, plan ahead and go to sleep early, too.

·         Maintain good sleep hygiene. Make the most of the sleep time you get by improving your sleep quality with good hygiene. That means maintaining a regular sleep schedule and bedtime routine, and keeping your bedroom cool, dark, comfortable and quiet. It's a good idea to avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening, and be careful to avoid heavy alcohol consumption or large meals at night, which can interfere with sleep.

·         Save exercise for early in the day. Heavy exercise just before bed can make it more difficult to sleep well. When your body temperature is elevated, you may not be able to get to sleep and feel too energized. It's best to exercise in the day, especially if you're running, so you can get sunlight exposure that can support a good circadian rhythm.

Good sleep is essential to athletic performance, so don't skip out on the rest you need to perform and feel your best.


Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.