One of the often forgotten pillars of good health and performance is sleep. In this article, we explain why it’s important and give you tips to improve your sleep.
Sleep isn’t sexy. In fact, it’s boring. But that doesn’t make it any less important for your health and your performance. In fact, sleep is a pillar of good health and performance, and it’s absolutely vital to get enough if you want to perform your best, be it cognitively or physically. Because sleep isn’t sexy, we tend to overlook it. This is even true of elite athletes. In a study from 2015, elite athletes reported sleeping less than 7 hours per night, below the general recommendation of 8 hours (1). Further, elite athletes have been shown to have worse quality sleep compared to non-athletes (2). These studies highlight the fact that even the best athletes have something to gain from prioritising sleep hygiene.
The three pillars of health: diet, activity, and sleep. Source: Tufts University
How Much Should We Sleep?
General recommendations for sleep are 7–9 hours per night, but sleep requirements for athletes may need to be higher (3). As an athlete, I would aim for at least 8 hours sleep, which means going to bed about 8.5 hours before you are scheduled to wake up (to allow for time to fall asleep). Aiming for more sleep (e.g., 9+ hours) may also be a good idea. The main thing is to make sure you’re consistently getting at least 8 hours sleep, as a lack of sleep—also known as sleep deprivation—has been shown to impair performance (e.g., reducing power, reaction time, distance covered, etc.) (3).
Tips to Improve Your Sleep
There are a number of simple ways to improve your sleep routine. Here are my top tips:
Establish a consistent schedule: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends. This helps regulate your body's internal clock and promotes a consistent sleep-wake cycle.
Create a sleep-friendly environment: Make your sleep environment dark, quiet, cool, and comfortable. If you don’t have them, consider investing in blackout curtains, earplugs, white noise machines, or a comfortable mattress and pillows.
Establish a bedtime routine: Engage in relaxing activities leading up to bedtime to signal your body and mind that it's time to unwind and prepare for sleep. This could include reading a book, taking a warm bath, practising relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation, or listening to calming music. Avoid stimulating activities, such as intense exercise or screen time, close to bedtime.
For more tips, check out the table below!
Source: Vitale et al. (3)
If you’re serious about your health and performance, you must prioritise sleep. Incorporating any of the tips laid out in this article is a step in the right direction.
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All the best!
Patrick Elliott, BSc, MPH
Health and Nutrition Science Communication Officer at Training121
Health Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional advice. For health advice, speak to a physician or other qualified health-care professional, and for nutrition advice, speak to a qualified nutrition professional (e.g., registered dietitian). The use of information on this site is solely at your own risk.
(1) Lastella M, Roach GD, Halson SL, Sargent C. Sleep/wake behaviours of elite athletes from individual and team sports. Eur J Sport Sci. 2015;15(2):94-100. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24993935/
(2) Leeder J, Glaister M, Pizzoferro K, Dawson J, Pedlar C. Sleep duration and quality in elite athletes measured using wristwatch actigraphy. J Sports Sci. 2012;30(6):541-45. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22329779/
(3) Vitale KC, Owens R, Hopkins SR, Malhotra A. Sleep Hygiene for Optimizing Recovery in Athletes: Review and Recommendations. Int J Sports Med. 2019;40(8):535-43. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6988893/
Sleep deprivation: A condition characterised by a chronic or acute lack of sufficient sleep. It occurs when an individual consistently fails to obtain the recommended amount or quality of sleep required for their age and specific needs. It can be caused by various factors, such as lifestyle choices, work demands, medical conditions, or sleep disorders.
Sleep hygiene: A set of practices and habits that promote good sleep quality and quantity. It involves adopting behaviours and creating an environment that supports healthy sleep patterns.