How Much Sleep Does an Athlete Need?

The search for the perfect night’s rest isn’t just a journey of the sleep-deprived; it’s also a multi-billion dollar business. Everybody has their highs and lows when it comes to energy and alertness throughout the day, but often, our ability to get a healthy amount of sleep is directly related to age and genetics.

The sleep/wake routine that leads many to feel alert and awake in the A.M., but sluggish and lethargic later in the day is tied to our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the body’s natural 24-hour clock, and it continually has the brain cycle between alertness and sleepiness. For those dealing with sleep deprivation, it takes far more effort to stay focused and maintain reaction time. On the other hand, a great night of sleep helps to dramatically improve awareness and reaction time, keeping your mind sharper and enhancing overall mental clarity. 

But how much sleep do you really need? 

How Much Sleep Do Athletes Need?

The average adult requires about 7-9 hours of sleep per night. However, lifestyle directly affects the amount of sleep each individual needs. Elite athletes are continually stressing their bodies, causing muscle trauma. This may contribute to the need for an additional 1-2 hours of sleep per night compared to the average person.

Athletes strive to compete at levels where fractions of a second can separate winners from losers. So the addition of 1-2 additional hours of sleep per night for an athlete can help to enhance their mental clarity while also simultaneously increasing their speed and reflexes. 

Athletes can incorporate a number of helpful practices into their routines to assist in achieving increased sleep.

Consistent Schedule Keeping a consistent sleep and wake schedule is essential for peak performance.

Travel Ahead Traveling to a distant location ahead of competition allows the body to adjust naturally to a new environment and reduce the risk of compromised rest. A time-frame from anywhere between a couple of days to a couple of weeks ahead of the event can help to acclimate the body for optimal performance.

Avoid Medications – Prescribed pain medications can negatively interfere with performance. They should be taken only when absolutely needed, and are best to avoid if possible. 

Reduce Stimulants Reducing the use of alcohol or caffeine allows for a deeper, more restful sleep. For athletes specifically, better sleep results in enhanced focus and performance. 

Sleep Environment – Keeping the room you sleep in dark, cool, and quiet can make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep for longer periods of time. The use of an eye mask or earplugs when sleeping in a different environment can also be very helpful.

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