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How Sleep Quality Affects Exercise

Sleep quality is critical for optimal health

Traditionally, diet and exercise have been viewed as the two cornerstones to good health and longevity. However, good sleep is just as important for your health as nutrition and physical activity. When we sleep, our bodies are able to carry out important physical and mental processes. The right amount of quality sleep allows us to recover from the day’s activities, heal damaged cells, maintain immune health, stimulate growth, regulate metabolism and much more.

How much sleep do we need?

A report from the National Sleep Foundation identified that most adults need at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night to be well rested, and athletes may benefit from as many as 10 hours. Furthermore, sleep quality is also critical for optimal health and restorative functioning. In fact, sleep is very much linked to athletic performance and competitive results.

Sleep, performance and recovery

For sports medicine providers, the negative effects of sleep deprivation cannot be overstated to athletes. In a survey of almost 900 high-level athletes, sleep was consistently named as the single most important recovery tool, regardless of sex, sport, or level of competition. In another study, increased total sleep time was associated with higher perception of recovery after training or competition. But how does this work?

Physical activity depletes energy, fluids, and breaks down muscle. As such, good sleep is necessary for our bodies to maintain and improve performance and prevent injury in all levels of athletic training. Sleep is another important aspect of rest and recovery when it comes to sports performance. A 2013 study shows that athletes who are sleep deprived are at risk of losing aerobic endurance and may experience subtle changes in hormone levels, which can lead to higher levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) as well as a decrease in human growth hormone, which is active during tissue repair. The growth hormone stimulates muscle repair, bone building and helps with fat burning.

The effects of quality sleep on athletic performance include:

1. Better reaction time
2. Improved mood
3. Increased accuracy and efficiency
4. Increased strength and endurance
5. Faster muscle recovery
6. Stress regulation

Injury rates
Reduced sleep has been linked to increased injury rates among athletes. A 2018 study that involves sleep data in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) athletes demonstrates a link between poor sleep and a higher risk of fatigue and injury. Fatigue and stress also affect the body’s immune system, making players more susceptible to illness and compromising their recovery time. Therefore, sleep deprivation not only takes players out of the game through injuries, but it can also keep them on the bench longer due to a slowed recovery time.

How can I improve my sleep quality?
While each person is different, some elite athletes are known to sleep for over 10 hours a night while training and nap throughout the day to maintain their endurance. Just like diet and nutrition, individuals should evaluate their sleep needs based on how much physical activity they are taking part in and how their bodies feel. If you are someone who struggles to wake up in the morning and feels lethargic during the day, you are probably sleep deprived!

Try the following tips to improve your sleep quality:

1. Make sleep a priority in your training schedule
2. Go to bed earlier
3. Maintain a regular sleep schedule by falling asleep and waking up at the same time every day
4. Take naps if you do not get enough sleep at night


In recent years, it’s become clear that the quality and quantity of sleep obtained by athletes can be the deciding factor between winning and losing on game-day. In addition to physical conditioning and conscious eating, sleep plays a major role in training and exercise performance. One sleepless night is unlikely to hurt your athletic performance – however, if poor sleep becomes a regular problem, you will likely start to notice it affecting your mental and physical wellbeing.


“We’re teaching our players: Sleep is a weapon.”
– Sam Ramsden, Dir. of Player Health and Performance, Seattle Seahawks

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