Young woman leans against a wall after a workout with a skipping rope around her shoulders

How sleep affects your fitness

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Quality sleep is vital for your overall health and wellbeing, and it can also mean the difference between an awesome and slightly more… meh, workout. Maximise your training with these 8 science-backed tips for a better night’s sleep.

Sleep and health

Sleep is critical for overall health and well-being, yet insufficient sleep duration, poor sleep quality (restorative sleep), or a combination of both, is commonplace in today’s society. 

Busy lives and a variety of factors such as work, travel, training and varying mealtimes can all make it hard to find a consistent sleep schedule. 

Sleep has been shown to have a significant impact on both the quality and quantity of your life, including physical and academic performance, cognitive function, recovery from athletic exertion and injury, mental wellbeing and cardiovascular health. 

To perform at your physical peak, rest and recovery can be just as important as training and nutrition. That’s why it is becoming increasingly recognised that athlete health and performance can be improved with consistent quality sleep. 

Sleep and athletic performance

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine conducted a comprehensive review of sleep and optimal functioning among athletes. 

They found evidence that extended sleep significantly improved serving accuracy, shooting accuracy and reaction time in collegiate tennis and basketball players. 

They also uncovered some interesting findings in the role sleep may play in injury prevention. Athletes who reported sleeping 8 or more hours a night were 1.7 times less likely to have a musculoskeletal injury.

College students with poor quality sleep also report significantly more illness than those with near-ideal or ideal sleep, which is thought to be because of sleeps' beneficial effect on immune system health

They concluded that obtaining restorative sleep has significant implications for health and athletic performance. While this research focused on collegiate athletes, they believe these findings have relevance to other sporting populations.

8 science-backed tips for a better night's sleep

The study authors discussed the importance of sleep hygiene -  a range of strategies to improve both sleep quality and quantity. According to the researchers, there are 8 evidence-based steps that allow for optimal sleep:
  1. Maintain a regular sleep schedule as much as possible, including on weekends
  2. Seek out bright light during the day, especially in the morning. In addition, avoid bright light at night, including exposure to screen based electronic devices. This technology can suppress melatonin levels and increases alertness, both of which delay sleep onset and contribute to sleep deprivation
  3. Keep your bedroom cool, dark and comfortable
  4. Avoid caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime. Nicotine and alcohol should also be avoided close to bedtime
  5. Avoid consuming excessive food and liquids at night, as these may disrupt sleep through digestion and increased trips to the bathroom
  6. Avoid obsessive clock watching. Often, looking at the clock at night can increase mental activity rather than decrease it, and makes resuming sleep more difficult
  7. Avoid daytime naps if you have difficulty falling asleep. However, napping may improve performance and functioning in some people
  8. If you have difficulty sleeping, use your bed for sleep and sex only. Get up out of bed for a period of time instead of lying awake if you are unable to sleep, and try to catch a later wave of tiredness