Sleep: Maximising Performance and Recovery
Published at 3 Apr 2019

Sport recovery and performance - the importance of sleep for athletes


Many of us are guilty of not paying enough attention to the quality or duration of sleep that we get. However, athletes seeking maximum performance and recovery neglect sleep at their peril.

Sleep deprivation is widespread and produces a number of detrimental effects for athletes. The trend to push sleep aside to make room for our busier lives shows no sign of abating. It is not just the amount of time in bed that is important - difficulty getting off to sleep or restless sleep can also create significant sleep debt. In sports men and women the issue of sleep deprivation is not just limited to amateur athletes who have to fit training around work schedules and family life - professionals are also vulnerable. 

Effects of sleep debt on performance:

  1. 1. Impaired glucose metabolism and the ability to replenish carbohydrate
  2. 2. Reduced cardiovascular performance
  3. 3. Impaired motor function and reaction times
  4. 4. Increased appetite and associated weight gain
  5. 5. Delayed visual and auditory reaction times
  6. 6. Increased perceived exertion for a given training load
  7. 7. Impaired mood which may affect the motivation to train

Hormones and Sleep

Sleep deprivation is associated with a series of hormonal changes which can lead to increased hunger and appetite, making it more difficult to achieve the low body fat levels required for success in many sports. 

  1. 1. Melatonin - the sleep hormone; levels are often reduced in those with poor sleep patterns.
  2. 2. Serotonin - contributes to regulation of sleep, appetite and mood. People suffering from depression or anxiety often have a serotonin deficiency; poor sleep lowers serotonin levels.
  3. 3. Ghrelin - the appetite hormone; levels increase with sleep debt along with cravings for sweet, fatty foods.
  4. 4. Leptin - the anorexic hormone; reduced levels are associated with weight gain, lack of sleep reduces levels in the body.
  5. 5. Testosterone - the muscle building hormone; levels decrease with poor sleep.
  6. 6. Cortisol - the stress hormone responsible for muscle breakdown; levels are increased during sleep deprivation.

Sleep tips

If you suspect you are not getting the sleep you need, addressing your sleep shortage may pay far more dividends than an extra training session here or there.

  1. 1. Avoid drinks containing caffeine after 3pm as they can increase the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.
  2. 2. Avoid alcohol in the three hours before your bedtime - yes it may help you fall asleep but can lead to disturbed sleep later on in the night.
  3. 3. Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime, but don’t go to bed hungry. A small snack such as wholemeal toast would be sufficient.
  4. 4. If you are suffering from sleep problems try eating magnesium-rich foods such as beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds and wholegrain bread. A lack of magnesium causes periodic limb movement or ‘restless leg syndrome’ which can lead to poor quality sleep and significant sleep debt.
  5. 5. Make sure your bed is comfortable - experiment with different pillows and get a mattress that suits how you like to sleep.
  6. 6. Keep your bedroom well ventilated, quiet and cool.
  7. 7. Try to get an extra hours sleep every night for two weeks and see how your performance improves.

Extracts from Peak Performance Recovery Special Report


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