Sleep; Why it's Just What You Need

by Rachel Moan |

Sleep is an understated necessity. The world's greatest champions live and breathe their sport seven days a week, 365 days a year. Yet it may surprise you that sleep plays a hugely significant role in the life of an athlete, both for rest and recuperation and athletic performance and competitive results. REM sleep, for example, provides energy to the brain as well as the body. If sleep is cut short, then the body and the mind do not have time to repair themselves, consolidate memory and release hormones.




Poor quality and quantity of sleep combined, compromises of the production of tissue regeneration, lowers immune system and even decreases cognitive processing.

Sleep can often be the first thing people sacrifice when they are busy or under pressure and poor sleep can be an early indicator of stress and anxiety that we are experiencing. We all need to normalise our sleeping patterns to maximise the all important recovery process.


How much is enough

We hear 'eight hours' a lot, however, for athletes and champions it may well not be enough. Indicators that you do not get enough sleep include:

  • taking more than 20 minutes to get to sleep
  • broken, interrupted sleep
  • unable to feel refreshed after a long night's sleep


Athletes need more than eight hours sleep for their bodies to recover and you may need this too. They are sometimes recommended up to ten hours sleep a night which may not be easy to incorporate into our busy lifestyles. However, the trick is to experiment and see what works for you and how we can make room and time for such an important and necessary activity in your lifestyle.

Athletes and champions who are sleep deprived will be fatigued and not in the best possible mental state they need to be.

Restricting sleep to less than six hours per night for four or more consecutive days has been shown to impair cognitive performance and mood (Belenky et al., 2004), disturb glucose metabolism (Spiegel et al., 1999), appetite regulation (Spiegel et al 2004) and immune function (Krueger et al., 2011). Such evidence has indeed led to the recommended action adults should obtain eight hours of sleep per night to prevent neuro-behavioural deficits (Van Dong et al.,2003).


Increasing Performance

“Sleep is extremely important to me. I need to rest and recover in order for the training I do to be absorbed by my body.” (Cheri Mah)


Sleep coach Cheri Mah works with collegiate athletes and professional teams in the NBA, NFL and NHL. She discovered that:

By incorporating adequate sleep with their routine, tennis players get 42% boost in hitting accuracy.

Sleep improves split-second decision making by 4.3%.

Roger Federer gets 11-12 hours sleep per night.

Two days sleep restriction can lead to 3x increase in lapses of attention and reactivity.

Chronic sleep loss can lead to a 30 – 40% reduction in glucose metabolism.

Sleep extension provides swimmers with a 17% improvement in reaction time off the starting block.

A 20 – 30 minute power nap is said to improve alertness by 100%.


Tips for getting a better quality of sleep

  • Avoid watching television in bed, using the computer or your phone.
  • Try to switch your brain off from thoughts circling using meditation or muscle relaxation techniques.
  • Restrict day time naps to one hour or less so they don't interfere with your night time sleep.
  • Create a routine for sleeping, e.g. in bed by 10:30pm, so you get to sleep and wake up at the same time; thus creating a habit.
  • Write down your worries before sleep – then forget about them until the next day. Make up for lost sleep as soon as possible.
  • Try to avoid raising our body temperature before bed as sleep onset normally occurs as the body temperature starts to drop.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and large meals for approximately four hours prior to sleep. Warm milk may help you.
  • Employ relaxation techniques.