May 25

Sleeping Habits & Their Effect on Sport Performance

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General well-being not only means being physically active but also taking care of the body to achieve active living, overall health, and quality of life. Humans cannot survive without the proper amount of sleep. Sleep disturbance and lack of sleep lead to more significant consequences than just dark circles around the eyes. No concealer can hide that damage!

Research Findings:

Sleep behaviour is an important determinant of health and wellbeing, with impacts on neural development, learning, memory, emotional regulation, metabolic health, and cardiovascular health. The results of an 2019 Alberta survey show that 71% of Albertans report meeting daily sleep recommendations, 25% rate their sleep quality as fairly bad to very bad (Alberta Center for Active Living).

The study by Yusuf et al. investigated the effects of a night of sleep deprivation on cognitive and physical performance in university students. They found that sleep deprivation is common among university students and has been associated with poor academic performance and physical dysfunction. The findings show that reaction time and vascular response to exercise were significantly affected by sleep deprivation, and indicate that acute sleep deprivation can have an impact on physical but not cognitive ability (Yusuf, et al., 2017).

More bad news for those who struggle to get enough sleep at night. According to a study published by Tracy White, Stanford Medicine, January 26, 2019, sleep deprived people suffer performance loss. Lack of sleep definitely affects our performance the next day, and probably for a longer period of time than we might expect. Among the findings: Two consecutive nights of less than six hours could leave you sluggish for the following six days. Researchers also found that staying up an extra hour, even if followed by a full night’s sleep, is correlated with slower performance the next day. But going to bed an hour earlier than normal has a negligible effect.

Sleep deprivation is linked to addiction to electronic gadgets, which has become a modern health issue. More and more researchers point to the fact that children and teens do not get enough sleep. In fact, this may even apply to coaches – I might add – as many of us stay up late to take care of administrative duties, updating records and statistics, and planning training sessions…and then we feel the “absolute” pressure to check our gadget before going to bed!

Knowing the benefits of sleep is one thing but getting enough of it is another. People feel wearisome and exhausted. While we adults (coaches) “clutch our morning java”, children and adolescents are too tired to function in the morning and in the classroom. Less sleep has a tremendous impact on movement and reaction time in learning gross motor and sport skills and ultimately sports performance. Moreover, lack of sleep leads to fatigue, which in turn impedes any physical activity, training, and competition.

Disease Prone, Obese and Depressed

The brain uses sleep to recover and reduce metabolic waste products. This process cannot be finished without or too little sleep. The result: memory, accuracy, and concentration are affected. In addition, the immune system follows the same course as it uses nightly rest for its recovery. If that cannot happen the system neglects its functions, leading ultimately to infection and sickness. The level of the hormone Leptin, which regulates hunger and metabolism, is lowered, hunger and craving set in even though there is no actual need to eat. We not only tend to eat more but also more unhealthy food such as donuts, chips, candy, etc. leading to an increase in overweight and obesity as people take in more food as needed.

Lack of sleep has been identified as a negative factor, compromising the immune system, eventually causing the body to store extra fat, and increasing the risk of acute injuries. For that very reason, sleep experts recommend that children and teens need to establish and maintain regular sleeping patterns to get adequate rest in order to function properly. Coaches should do the same to maintain overall health and their functioning ability.

Here is what happens: Using TVs, tablets, smartphones, laptops, or other electronic devices before bed delays the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm), suppresses the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and makes it more difficult to fall asleep (see previous Leptin).

Most North American adolescents are said to operate in a constant state of “jet lag” as they need about 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night. Some researchers even recommend nine to ten hours of uninterrupted sleep! Yet, very few get that! Even if they do go to bed on time, most children and teens find it difficult to fall asleep at a decent hour. Prior to adolescence, most children are asleep naturally around 8 or 9 pm, according to sleep specialists. However, puberty changes a teen’s internal clock, delaying the time they start feeling sleepy, often until 11 pm or later.

Many children also pursue individual activities such as private lessons and other structured activities outside school. Coupled with scholastic and social demands, increasing every year, many feel tired, both physically and mentally. Thus, for a variety of reasons sleep often becomes neglected, and as a result sleep deprivation occurs. In addition, attitude/mood adversely affect performance in the classroom and of course sport performance. Therefore, the phase of “deep” sleep is critical. Researchers point out that as little as 20 hours of sleep deprivation can have a negative affect on cognitive and fine motor skills as well as proprioception – for example, the sense of balance of sleep-deprived students and the ability to shift weight with their eyes closed is more likely off or critically affected.

Research Findings:   

Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called “memory consolidation.” According to studies, people sleeping after learning a task did better on tests later on.

Metabolism and weight: Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.

Safety: Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime.

Mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Lacking sleep can contribute to a reduced desire to do activities one likes to do.

Fatigue: Too little sleep can also leave one too tired to do the things one likes to do.

Cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.

Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cell. Sound sleeping patterns may contribute to fighting off cancer.

Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation
  • Early fatigue during physical activity or training
  • Unexpected emotional responses
  • Negativism, pessimism, sadness, mood change, stress, anxiety, anger, frustration
  • Inability to solve problems, lack of critical thinking or decision-making
  • Decrease of alertness and focus during physical activity, training or competition/ Game
  • Slower recovery from injury
Suggested Strategies to Improve Sleep Pattern

So, how can children and teens get enough sleep, given the fact that their internal clocks aren’t cooperating? Here are suggestions:

  • Using a log to monitor the sleep pattern (download log below)
  • Developing and maintaining regular sleeping habits, and follow a regular, relaxing bedtime routine
  • Getting 8-10 hours of sleep per night is ideal, according to sleep experts
  • Identifying strategies to maximize the benefits of sleep
  • If insomnia is severe and chronic and sleep disorders exist (sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome), a sleep specialist should be consulted
Making Sleep The Priority

Develop and maintain regular sleeping habits: Follow a regular, relaxing bedtime routine – make it consistent with regular steady sleep and wake-up routines (at the same time)

Falling asleep: within 20 minutes of going to bed and waking up without an alarm most likely indicates getting the right amount of sleep

Establishing a sleeping habit/routine: Based on research, 10 pm bedtime and 6 am wake up time seems to be an optimal schedule for both physical and psychological recovery as well as wakefulness during the day

Setting sleep pattern: Estimate personal sleep needs by experimenting over a few weeks

Sleep deprivation: Falling asleep immediately upon “hitting the pillow” and always needing an alarm to wake up indicates sleep deprivation

Daily naps: Take a daily nap if sleep deficiency is apparent but keep it short (less than an hour)

Missing sleep: “Catching up” on missed sleep on the weekend is not a healthy practice – it actually throws the body clock off even more

Unplug: Getting rid of stimulation – it’s a good idea to turn off all    electronics about an hour (or more) before bed, including television, loud   music, laptop or computer, smartphone and iPod and/or leave outside the bedroom

Late night socializing: Frequently interferes with establishing and maintaining healthy sleeping patterns

Keep it dark: Light-tight blinds, shades, and window coverings help set the   right environment for sleep

Ambient light as distraction: Glowing or flashing clock or other light from electronics can also interfere with a solid night’s sleep

Use light as an advantage: Dim light tells the brain that it is time for sleep, and bright light says it’s time to wake up – keep lights dim for 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime, and use lots of bright light upon awakening

Keep it cool: Lowering the thermostat in the bedroom to 65 to 68 degrees  helps to fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly

Experiment: Keeping it on the cool side is better for sleeping than being too hot – experiment with the temperature or amount of bed covers

Keep it quiet: Nothing can cause more sleep disturbance than noise. If living in a noisy location – near traffic, airports, or noisy neighbors – use earplugs to create silence – white noise may also be helpful, such as a fan

Eating Habits: Healthy nutrition and exercise regularly

Hygiene: Practice good body hygiene such as regular showers, brushing teeth, etc., and change bed sheets regularly (1x per week)

Using Sleep To Improve Sports Performance

Identify strategies to maximize the benefits of sleep: athletes are able to optimize training and competition outcomes by identifying strategies to maximize the benefits of sleep.

Increasing Sleep Time: several weeks before a major competition or game/match

Getting Daily Exercise Time: outside training. This should be used as a “balancing act” to the regular training routine (use walking, cycling, stretching, etc. to induce sleep faster). While there isn’t necessarily an optimal time, some people report that exercising before bed makes them too energized and alert: therefore, experts recommend allowing 6 hours between the exercise session and bedtime. This could be difficult if training sessions are held in the early evenings.

Adapting to an Upcoming Travel Schedule: Consider if time zone changes or early competition/game starts are necessary. In order to adapt the body to respective changes, this should be adhered to at least one week prior to departure. Otherwise, insomnia upon arrival at the travel destination can become a real problem.


Alberta Center for Active Living (2019, January 14). The 2019 Alberta Survey on Physical Activity. Edmonton, AB, and SIRC, January 29, 2019. https://www.centre4activeliving.ca/our-work/alberta-survey-physical-activity/

Alhola, P., & Polo-Kantola, P. (2007). Sleep deprivation and cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, Vol. 3(5), 553-567. October. Turku, Finland. Retrieved, April 30, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2656292/

Harvard Education: Healthy Sleep: Consequences of Insufficient Sleep. Retrieved April 30, 2019, from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences

Mah, C. (2007). Extra sleep improves athletes’ performance. Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. June 14, 2007.

Mah, C. (2008). Extended sleep and the effects on mood and athletic performance in collegiate swimmers. Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. June 9, 2008.

Mah, C. (2009). The study shows sleep extension improves athletic performance and mood. Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. June 8, 2009.

Mah, C. D., Mah, K. E., Kezirian, E. J., & Dement, W. C. (2011). The effect of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. Sleep, 34(7), 943-950. July 1, 2011.

White, T. (2017). Sleep deprived suffer performance loss, according to a new study. Scope. Stanford Medicine. Retrieved April 30, 2019, from https://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2017/01/ 26/sleep-deprived-suffer-performance-loss-according-to-new-study/

Yusuf, P., Lee, A., Raha, O., Pillai, K., Gupta, S., Sethi, S., Mukeshimana, F., Gerard, L., Moghal, M.U., Saleh, S.N., Smith, S.F., Morrell, M.J., & Moss, J. (2017). Effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive and physical performance in university students. Sleep Biological Rhythms, Vol. 15(3): 217–225. Published online 2017 Apr 13. Doi: 10.1007/s41105-017-0099-5. Retrieved April 30, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5489575/

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