Quality sleep is essential to athletic performance. Sleep quality impacts an athlete's alertness, learning ability, physical health, fitness, and mental health. For quality sleep, experts recommend at least nine hours of sleep for elite athletes. 

However, most elite athletes often have tight training and competition schedules, not to mention their personal commitments. For example, some travel back and forth between cities or overseas to attend matches, meetings, training, and other duties, preventing them from enjoying quality sleep. As a result of this lifestyle, you may be curious to know whether athletes have adequate sleep, or if they sleep differently.

This article explores the world of elite athletes, and their sleep habits. It also includes the importance of sleep to athletes, and how they manage to get quality sleep amid their busy schedules.

Why is Extra Sleep Important for Elite Athletes?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep per day for regular adults. Elite athletes, however, need 2 to 3 hours more sleep than adults for various reasons.

Here’s why elite athletes need more sleep.

Improves an Athlete's Mental State

Sleep plays a crucial role in memory retention and mental health. This is because it's a vital part of psychological and cognitive performance that influences memory consolidation, decision making, and alertness.

Because athletes learn new skills all the time, they need adequate sleep and better sleep quality to consolidate their memory. Studies have shown that elite athletes who don't sleep enough struggle preparing for competitions and perform poorly as a result.

Promotes Quick Recovery from Injuries

Injuries are almost inevitable in sports. For example, high-impact sports expose athletes to injuries, such as fractures, strains, and sprains. As a result, injured athletes stay out of the game for a long time.

Besides medication and therapy, sleep experts suggest that an elite athlete needs adequate sleep and improved sleep quality while injured to enhance cell rejuvenation. With more sleep, the cell rejuvenation process promotes faster healing, enabling the elite athlete to recover faster.

Allows the Heart to Get Proper Rest

Sports involve rigorous activities, such as running and exercising, which increase an athlete's heart rate. Therefore, a few extra hours of sleep allows the athlete's heart to rest well and recover from exhaustion.

Prevents Illnesses

During sleep, the body produces hormones called cytokines, enabling the immune system to fight infections. This process is vital to athletes, given that they are prone to infections from cuts, bruises, and injuries. As a result, athletes require better sleep quality to rejuvenate their immune systems.

Reduces Injury Rates

Numerous studies have linked poor sleep quality to high risks of injuries in athletes. For example, sleep deprivation causes low concentration and fatigue among athletes during a match. As a result of poor sleep quality, athletes are more likely to fall, and get injured during the game.

How is Sleep Different for Elite Athletes vs. Non-athletes?

Sleep requirements differ among different age groups. For instance, the National Sleep Foundation recommends at least nine hours of sleep for school-aged children, and 8 to 10 hours of sleep for teenagers.

On the other hand, adults seem to need fewer hours of sleep than children and teenagers. The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to at least nine hours of sleep for adults.

Additionally, studies show elite athletes need longer sleeping hours than regular adults. This is because of the higher need to recover from the high-impact training, competitions, and busy lifestyles. For improved sleep quality, sleep experts recommend at least 9 hours of sleep for elite athletes.

Unfortunately, elite athletes encounter numerous challenges that affect their sleep habits. For instance, some elite athletes train during the night while others travel long distances for competitions and other sports-related commitments. As a result, most elite athletes can hardly find enough hours of sleep in their schedules.

Effects of Inadequate Sleep on Athletic Performance

The impact of inadequate sleep and poor sleep habits on elite athletes is evident in their athletic performance. Here are some of the signs of sleep deprivation in elite athletes, and their impact on athletic performance.

Sleep Deprivation Causes Reduced Speed and Poor Athletic Performance

Athletes with sleep deprivation tend to move slower due to fatigue and pain. As a result of sleep deprivation, they end up performing poorly in their respective sports.

Sleep Deprivation Causes High Risks of Illnesses and Injuries

Sleep deprivation in elite athletes also increases the chances of injuries resulting from lack of concentration, sleepiness, disorientation, etc. Moreover, sleep-deprived elite athletes take longer to recover from injuries, and risk contracting illnesses and infections.

Sleep Deprivation Leads to Tiredness

Sleep deprivation also causes tiredness among athletes, even when performing usual light activities. Because they are sleep deprived, such athletes lack motivation and concentration, leading to poor athletic performance.

Sleep Deprivation Causes Daytime Sleepiness and Affects Athletic Performance

Daytime sleepiness is one of the typical results of lack of sufficient sleep. Daytime sleepiness lowers an athlete's concentration during the day, affecting their sports performance.

Sleep Deprivation can Lead to Poor Decision-Making and Cognitive Function

Sleep deprivation affects cognitive function and processes that promote decision-making. As a result of poor cognitive function, sleep-deprived athletes may take too long to make decisions, causing poor athletic performances during training and competitions.

Lack of Endurance is Often Associated with Sleep Deprivation

Sports competitions and training come with a massive demand for constant sports performance improvements. As a result, athletes have to endure a lot of pressure while training and competing. However, sleep loss may cause irritability and hopelessness among athletes.

Sleep Tips for Athletes to Prevent Sleep Loss

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is a big challenge for many athletes. However, there are many easy strategies athletes can utilize to improve their sleep quality and quantity. If you're an athlete, here are some sleep tips to help you get sufficient rest every day.

Reduce Caffeine Intake too Close to Bedtime to Prevent Sleep Deprivation

Caffeine and other stimulants keep you awake longer than you should be when you take them too close to bedtime. Therefore, avoiding such stimulants will allow you to fall fast asleep as soon as you go to bed. As a result, you'll enjoy longer and better sleep.

Create a Conducive Sleep Environment

Your sleep environment plays a vital role in your sleep quality. This is because the body has a 24-hour biological clock called the circadian rhythm that controls sleep and wake cycles by picking cues from your environment. For example, if your bedroom has too much noise and light, you may not fall asleep quickly, because the body receives signals that it's not yet bedtime.

For this reason, you need to optimize your bedroom environment to make it conducive for sleeping. For instance, reducing bright light and noise in your bedroom helps you relax and fall asleep faster.

Adopt Relaxing Routines and Sleep Patterns

You can adopt body relaxing routines, such as warm baths and massages, to help your body relax and relieve stress. Such routines and sleep patterns enable you to fall asleep faster, increasing the hours you sleep in a day.

Don't Use Blue Light Devices at Bedtime

Using blue light-emitting devices such as smartphones, laptops, or tablets before or during bedtime interrupts your sleep patterns, and causes sleep disturbance. The sleep patterns interruption is because these devices delay the sleep-inducing hormone called melatonin. As a result of sleep patterns interruption, the body receives the wrong signal to stay awake during bedtime. So, although you may feel relaxed while scrolling through your phone during bedtime, you'll feel exhausted the following day.

Sleep Whenever You Can

Learn to fall asleep anywhere, if you have difficulties maintaining regular sleep patterns and routines due to your busy schedule as an elite athlete. This will help you compensate for the amount of sleep you lose every time you have to get out of bed earlier than usual. For instance, if you're constantly flying from one place to another, prepare to sleep comfortably during your flights to prevent sleep deprivation.

Adjust Schedule to Suit Changes in Time Zones

Traveling across different time zones distorts the body's natural biological clock that controls functions, such as the sleep and wake cycle, feeding time, and body temperature. Because athletes travel too often, they need to adjust their schedules to suit the new time zones. This may include changing mealtimes and meals, sleep, training, and competition schedules to align with those in the new locations.

Take Daytime Naps to PreventSleep Deprivation

Napping has numerous benefits for athletes, including relaxing the mind and body, relieving stress, and improving cognitive performance and psychological functions. In addition to improving cognitive performance and psychological functions, napping helps athletes achieve the average sleep hours they require in a day, and also reverses the effects of sleep deprivation.

Avoid Over-training

Despite the mounting pressure to improve athletic performance, over-training leads to extreme exhaustion, affecting physical and mental performance. As a result of these body issues and changes in your mental state, you may have difficulties falling asleep, leading to sleep deprivation.

Seek Treatment for Sleep Disorders

If you're experiencing sleep difficulties despite making all the necessary adjustments to your schedule and lifestyle, consider consulting a sleep specialist for further help. You may have an underlying physical health condition that causes sleep deprivation, including stress, amnesia, sleep apnea, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions about Sleep Loss and Athletic Performance

We've answered some common questions regarding sleep deprivation and sports performance below.

Do Female Athletes Need More Sleep Than Male Elite Athletes?

We’ve answered the question of how much sleep female and male athletes need, below.

Before we even discuss how much sleep these two sets of athletes need, it’s important to note that women and men perform differently in sports. This may be attributed to the difference in the physical structure between men and women. Usually, men have more muscle mass than women, making them physically stronger.

As a result, sportswomen are at a higher risk of sports-related injuries than men. Therefore, sportswomen may need more time to rest and recover from injuries and illnesses.

Do Some Sports Require More Sleep Than Others?

No conclusive research suggests that some sports require more sleep than others. However, several characteristics may influence the sleep requirements of athletes from different sports.

For instance, high-speed and high-impact sports require athletes to be alert, flexible, and quick in making sober decisions. In addition, because sleep promotes healthy physiological and psychological functions, athletes in such sports may need more sleep.

However, adequate sleep is a vital factor in athletic performance, regardless of the type of sport.

What are the Tips for Sleeping in an Airplane for Traveling Athletes?

If you often travel for sporting activities, these tips will help you feel comfortable while sleeping during your flight.

  • Wear comfortable clothes during your flight that allow you to regulate your body temperature throughout the flight.
  • Cover your feet with warm socks for that cozy feeling.
  • Carry a neck pillow to support your neck while sitting or sleeping.
  • Cover your eyes with an eye mask to prevent disturbed sleep.
  • Wear noise-canceling headsets to create a quiet sleep environment and prevent sleep disturbance.

Check out this interesting guide on how to sleep on an airplane to help you prepare and plan your trips well in advance, and avoid sleep disturbance.

Do Elite Athletes Suffer from Sleep Loss?

Some athletes have disturbed sleep for various reasons. For instance, when an elite athlete is injured, they may suffer from pain and discomfort, leading to disturbed sleep, or lost sleep.

However, sleep difficulties may also result from poor sleep habits, including sleeping on the wrong mattress. For example, a mattress that lacks adequate support curves your spine away from its normal S-shaped curve, leading to low back pain and lost sleep. This pain affects your athletic performance and sleep quality.

What is the Ideal Mattress for Elite Athletes to Prevent Sleep Loss?

Elite athletes need premium mattresses that provide adequate support and maximum comfort to improve their sleep quality. However, shopping for the ideal mattress for an elite athlete is a huge task, given that there are numerous options in the market.

Here are some factors to consider while shopping for the ideal mattress for an athlete that guarantees better sleep quality.

Firmness Level

While the firmness level of a mattress is a matter of preference, you need to ensure the mattress isn't too firm or too soft to support proper spinal alignment, and improve sleep quality.

The ideal firmness of an athlete's mattress is relative to their weight and preferred sleeping position. For instance, heavier athletes need a firmer mattress to support their spine. On the other hand, side-sleeping athletes need soft mattresses to cushion their pressure points.

Materials

The materials of a mattress influence its quality. For instance, a latex mattress is more durable than a memory foam mattress because it contains all-natural materials. As a result, the latex mattress is breathable, comfortable, and hypoallergenic, allowing athletes to rest well every night.

Support

The support and firmness level of a mattress go hand in hand. However, this factor depends on the mattress material and its construction. For example, this flippable latex mattress by Latex For Less has two different firmness levels on either side, allowing you to choose the side that feels more comfortable, and supports your spine better while trying out the mattress.

Temperature Regulation

Athletes need a temperature-regulating mattress to keep them cool during hot nights, and warm during cold nights. This reduces sleep disruptions resulting from sleeping hot, allowing the athletes to sleep longer.

Find the Ideal Mattress for Elite Athletes

The Latex For Less latex mattress checks all boxes for the ideal mattress to improve the  sleep quality of an elite athlete. Here's why:

Unlike most mattresses, you can flip this mattress to reveal different firmness levels on either side. One side is medium-firm and ideal for lightweight sleepers, while the other is firm and ideal for heavier sleepers.

In addition, flipping the mattress doesn't affect its support system. Your spine remains in proper alignment, regardless of the side of the mattress you choose to sleep on.

This top-rated organic mattress contains layers of 100% all-natural latex known for its benefits, such as allergy resistance, temperature regulation, and responsive support. In addition, the organic latex mattress contains 100% natural wool fibers for fire resistance.

However, this layer of wool serves other purposes, such as wicking moisture, improving air circulation, and adding plushness to the premium quality mattress.

Lastly, the latex mattress contains a pure cotton cover that's easy and soothing to the skin.

The Bottom Line

Athletes have different sleep schedules, depending on the sporting activities they're involved in and their lifestyles. Certain factors can influence an athlete's sleep schedule, while some can totally ruin this schedule. Among other factors, such as taking daytime naps, adopting exercise routines, practicing positive sleep patterns, and avoiding blue-light emitting devices, sleeping on a high-quality organic mattress from Latex For Less can help boost athletic performance.

Elizabeth Magill

Elizabeth Magill is a professional freelance writer and editor who holds an MBA. Liz specializes in writing about health news, medical conditions, healthy living, small business, career and work, personal finance, and green-living, including news and trending topics in these specialties. Her clients include Healthline, The Motley Fool, GoBanking Rates, LIVESTRONG.com, Big Interview, HealthNews, Intuit Small Business Blog, Intuit Health, American News Report, Travels.com, IFX Medical, and many others. She’s also a published eBook author and ghost writer for various clients in the health, medical, career, small business, and personal finance niches.