Sleep is fundamental to an athlete’s performance - that's clear.
Over the past fifteen years the understanding that sleep is not just dead time where athletes switch off but instead sleep is the key to peaking performances, giving athletes the competitive edge. Sleep has been shown to be a key component in physical and psychological restoration and recovery.
Sleep is the primary time in which the conservation of energy, muscle regeneration, memory consolidation, brain growth and maintenance of the immune system all occur. Sleep has been shown to improve physical attributes including endurance, speed and strength as well as mental abilities such as accuracy, decision making and concentration.
So, how is sleep important for athletic performance?
How can improved sleep aid endurance sports?
A study on the effects of sleep deprivation on running endurance, for example, found that participants covered nearly three percent less distance on no sleep than they did when well-rested.
A single night of restricted sleep after a heavy exercise bout was found to result in a 4% decrease in 3-km time trial performance the following morning among adult cyclists, suggesting that restricted sleep may impair recovery between bouts of strenuous exercise.
How can improved sleep aid accuracy-based sports?
A single night of 5 hours of sleep for tennis players was associated with a decrease in serving accuracy of up to 53% compared with after a normal night’s sleep. Whereas, a 1.6 hour sleep extension was associated with a 36% to 41% increase in serving accuracy.
In a study on basketball players, where sleep durations were increased, with 10 hours being the goal over a 7 week period, longer sleep was correlated with an increased shooting accuracy of 9.2%.
What is the science behind sleep affecting athletic performance?
Pre-exercise muscle glycogen stores have been found to be decreased after sleep deprivation. Glycogen is one of your body’s main energy sources during exercise. A lack of glycogen can reduce muscle function and total work capacity.
When we don’t sleep, our muscles can’t fully restock their energy stores (in the form of muscle glycogen). A recent study found that when restricted to a 30-hour sleep deprivation, the inability of the human body to fully recover muscle glycogen was seen in athletes.
What are some of the main causes of sleep issues for athletes?
One of the main reasons athletes can struggle with their sleep is the constant travel and constantly sleeping in new environments. One of the main reasons an athlete may not be able to get to sleep or stay asleep is the noise around them.
Noise can promote awakening and has previously been shown to attenuate hypo-vigilance during sleep deprivation. Indeed, music and specific pitches of sounds have been used by athletes for a number of years.
How can sleep audio help athletes get a better night’s sleep?
One study found that music reduces subjective sleepiness, and led to improved cognitive performance for up to 20 mins after waking. Additionally, white noise can help athletes fall asleep faster by masking other sounds.
Pink noise is a variation of white noise. Intense continuous pink noise abolishes 15-minute sleep inertia and has a positive arousing effect on reaction times on spatial memory tasks.
You can find out more about different types of sleep audio in this article.