10 reasons why quality sleep is important for athletes?

Have you noticed that you handle everything more easily when you sleep well? You feel better, learn more easily, and even your workouts seem simpler and less tiring. On days when you sleep poorly or too little, you tend to be more irritable, often lose focus, and just don’t feel like yourself.
Does this sound familiar to you? Do you have similar experiences? Are you interested in why sleep is so important and how to sleep better and more restfully?

Why is sleep important, or are you putting enough fuel into your body?

It’s important to view sleep as the main form of recovery.

During the day, you are in full swing, handling various tasks related to school, university, sports, or work. In other words, you are exerting yourself both physically and mentally. During quality sleep, you allow your body and mind to recover. In this way, you start the next day ready with reserves of renewed energy.

Sleep should be viewed as the fuel that allows you to make the most of each day, with the highest level of readiness and the highest level of energy. Just as you take care of a good car (you don’t drive it on empty and you don’t fill it with unsuitable fuel), you should also take care of your body and mind. In other words, try not to start your day “on empty,” meaning without good rest and recovery, i.e., sleep.

Sleep is of utmost importance to athletes. Research shows that quality sleep is positively correlated with optimal performance. In other words, the better the quality of sleep athletes have, the higher the likelihood of their optimal performance. Reduced quality and quantity of sleep negatively affect motor skills (speed, strength, endurance), neurocognitive functions (attention and memory), and physical and mental health!

Therefore, sleep protects and recovers us. It helps us stay concentrated and focused during the day and enables our body to perform physiological functions in an optimal way.

Interestingly, research shows that sleep deprivation is the best predictor of injuries in young athletes. Athletes who sleep less than 8 hours a day have twice the risk of injury compared to athletes who sleep more than 8 hours a day.

To summarize, what does quality sleep enable for athletes?

  • A higher level of energy
  • More successful maintenance of motivation and focus
  • Better emotional control
  • Higher tolerance of training intensity
  • Easier and faster recovery after training, lower risk of injuries
  • Making better and higher quality decisions in preparation for training and during the training itself
  • Better endurance of challenges during training, as well as during competitions/games
  • More successful coping with stressful situations
  • Better learning and remembering of movements taught during training
  • Secretion of growth hormone which is important for growth and development and reduction of stress hormone (cortisol)

As you can see, quality sleep has numerous benefits that help you achieve goals and optimize sports successes.

How then to get quality sleep? Here are a few tips!

Bedtime routine – without the phone!

Nowadays, we spend a lot of time on our phones before going to bed. It has been proven that prolonged screen time before sleep actually disrupts sleep quality. Do you scroll through Instagram or TikTok before bed?

Do you know that sleep quality is better if you go for a walk before bed, read a book, or spend time with friends and family?

After becoming aware of your bedtime routine, try to create new habits to improve the quality of your sleep.

What can you do before bed to improve sleep quality?
  • Have your last meal approximately 3 hours before bed.
  • Move to the right environment – make sure it’s dark, quiet, relaxing, and comfortable.
  • Do breathing exercises or meditate for 5 to 10 minutes – this helps calm the body and mind.
  • Avoid watching TV or using the computer in bed.
  • Put away your phone 30-60 minutes before bed.
If you can’t fall asleep, get up!

If you can’t fall asleep and you toss and turn for 15-20 minutes or imagine all sorts of scenarios, it’s better and preferable to get out of bed, change rooms, go for a walk, or read a book until you notice fatigue returning and it’s time to sleep again.

Consistency of sleep patterns

It is important to achieve consistency in sleep patterns because it allows for recovery and facing every challenge in the best possible way, whether in sports or outside of it.

This way, you reduce the possibility of a worse mood and lower energy levels. In fact, you enable yourself to use your full potential every day.

Try to go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time every day. You might be wondering why this would be good? Because this way, the body adapts to the routine and will naturally become sleepy at a certain time. This way, you program your body clock.

How to build a habit in 4 steps?

Afternoon rest – when and how long?

Additionally, it would be desirable to include an afternoon rest in your daily schedule. It can be 15, 20, 30, or even 45 minutes. Of course, it all depends on your schedule, how much time you can actually set aside, and the intensity of your training. It’s important to listen to your own body.

If the training was in the morning, an afternoon rest will enhance recovery and relaxation. On the other hand, if training is later in the afternoon or early evening, an afternoon rest will be great for refreshing the body and making it more rested.

Additionally, the timing of afternoon naps is extremely important. Therefore, make sure that the rest period is not too close to the training session to avoid sluggishness and drowsiness during training.

Considering your rhythm and schedule, think about what routine suits you best and start implementing it TODAY! Create quality habits and allow yourself to be the well-rested version of yourself, it’s worth it.

Lucija Cvitanović, MSc in Psychology

© Detlev Seyb / MyRowingPhoto.com

Dora Dragičević, MSc in Psychology

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