How Poor Sleep Quality Affects Athletic Performance

Tara Youngblood Sep 07, 2022

Athlete and sleep

Whether you’re competing at an elite level or you’re simply staying active to promote overall health, sleep is vital to your athletic performance and muscle recovery. When you put your body through repetitive motions in sports, you increase the risk of associated injuries and fatigue.

Not only does quality sleep to repair and rejuvenate the body to stimulate muscle growth, but it also sharpens the mind and boosts mental clarity to prepare your brain to learn and retain new skills.

MLB Pitcher Jeff Hoffman

The Importance of Sleep

Whether you’re a coach, an athlete, or purely an active individual, sleep is the greatest defense against a plethora of ailments that will hinder the ability to perform.

Sleep and Athletic Performance

From basketball players looking to improve shooting accuracy and stamina to sprinters hoping to shave seconds off their 100-meter dash, sleep quality is a main determining factor that can either limit or enhance your absolute best. Athletes that don’t get enough quality sleep are statistically less likely to perform at their best.

Interestingly, a study on runners showed that while the body could take in the same level of oxygen regardless of hours deprived of sleep, the runner’s perceived exhaustion was much greater—making the overall feat more difficult than it would have been if they received an adequate night of sleep prior to race day.

That’s only scratching the surface of the damaging after-effects of sleep deprivation. A landmark chronic sleep deprivation study by Karine Spiegel, Rachel Leproult, and Eve Van Cauter used eleven men restricted to four hours of sleep for six nights in a row. [1] A list of hormonal and metabolic markers was measured throughout each day.

How poor sleep affects athletic performance

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NASCAR Driver Bubba Wallace

How the OOLER Helped Him Get Better Sleep

Young Adults

The young men, all between 18 and 27 years old, all trended towards multiple, negative metabolic and hormonal changes throughout the week. Cortisol the “stress hormone” connected with overtraining, increased markedly, and glucose tolerance dropped. Both are indicators that are typically associated with premature aging—the last thing an athlete wants.

Researchers found that the best way to counteract these effects and restore the mechanisms that prolong an athlete's career was a consistent sleep regimen. Only when the body is well-rested can it simultaneously replenish glycogen stores, maintain testosterone levels, reduce inflammation, and boost motor skill development. Learn about foods that can help boost testosterone levels.

Benefits of Sleep for Athletes

In addition to the physical benefits of sleep, athletes everywhere will be excited to know there are dozens of mental benefits as well.

Improve Decision-Making

Scientists now even equate sleep deprivation to being intoxicated—you can essentially become impaired to a point where you appear and act "drunk" due to sleeplessness. [2] This serious lack of mental coordination can not only hurt performance, but it can also lead to a costly mental misstep when each moment counts.

Improves Reaction Time

When you have fractions of a second to react or make a decision on the next play, it's important to be mentally sound. Without sleep, the mind isn't able to easily consolidate memories (recall a play from a game film the day before) or absorbed new knowledge (adjust to a new opponent).

How Lack of Sleep Affects Your Body

Scientists took a group of tennis players and found that by confining their sleep to 5 hours or less decreased serving accuracy by 53%. [3] For recreational and professional athletes alike, this number is staggering. Many athletes would have to work tirelessly to improve performance by even a few percentages in a lifetime, imagine taking away that hard work in a single night of poor sleep.

Reduce Injury Risk

For many athletes, there is no greater fear than a potential injury during the season which could shorten your career or disrupt your favorite form of exercise. The same muscles get used repeatedly, leading to fatigue and compromised athletic performance. In order to manage the chronic tear-down of muscle fibers, athletic performance relies on the restorative properties only sleep can provide.

Sleep, specifically non-REM or deep sleep is when the body produces human growth hormone and effectively repairs any micro-tears so muscle growth can occur. Without enough quality, deep sleep, the blood supply does not shift to muscle repair/growth as efficiently and recovery is compromised.

The important link between recovery and performance cannot be overstated. A study looking at injury rates in high school athletes found that hours asleep was the strongest predictor of injury, even more than hours of practice.

Sleep Adds Player Longevity

In addition to improving plate discipline for MLB players, the collaboration with sleepme will add to player longevity because better sleep naturally improves how well, and how long, they play. Worth noting is a former study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine that showed players' strike-zone judgment got worse over the course of an MLB season. [4]

For example, the study showed the rates were worse in September than in April for 24 out of 30 teams! This means that almost all cognitive mistakes that happen on the baseball field are tied to fatigue -- the exhaustion just isn’t there in April. Sleep deficit develops over the course of the season for many professional baseball players.

Baseball players and sleep

Sleep Improves Players' Workouts

Sleep is critical for professional baseball players because they can’t get the most out of workouts when they’re tired. In addition to using the OOLER, our new program with the Reds and Mariners is offering resources and access to customized wellness tips.

This gives players an edge when it comes to maximizing both their physical and mental training. As the Cincinnati Reds Starting Pitcher Jeff Hoffman says: “Sleep definitely starts the cycle of our day, and for us to get the most out of our day, we have to get a good night.”

Sleep Boosts Immunity

Being in the professional sports world, the Reds and the Mariners management teams knew that deep sleep has restorative powers, including strengthened immune systems. That’s another big reason why they looked into the OOLER. The benefits of quality sleep can not be overstated, especially when it comes to keeping the players healthy.

Despite long hours playing games in the summer heat, grueling travel schedules, and lots of jet lag as they fly from one ballpark to the next. When the players’ bodies are well-rested, they’re able to replenish glycogen stores, increase human growth hormone (HGH), raise testosterone levels, reduce inflammation, and boost motor skill development, among other benefits.

Another similar study found that adolescent athletes who slept more each night were 68 percent less likely to be injured than athletes who regularly slept less.

It’s clear that the longevity of an athlete’s career relies heavily on their ability to reach and maintain deep sleep. Luckily, this is not an insurmountable task when you know how to move the body into a restful sleep and maintain a consistent sleep schedule.

Sleep is a Recipe Best Served Cold.

We know a thing or two about getting better sleep, and the #1 scientifically proven tip is that cold sleep is the best sleep! Cold sleep is critical for deep sleep -- the human body needs to drop its core temperature by about 3°F to initiate sleep and then stay asleep.

The OOLER is an advanced, temperature-regulated mattress pad that creates that drop in body temperature to enter or enhance the deep sleep stage. So as part of this new program with the Reds and Mariners, we gave players an OOLER sleep system to quickly decrease core body temperature to trigger deep sleep.

In addition, we provided customized travel kits and a travel case to easily transport their new sleep gear, which makes it easier to get consistently great sleep night after night, whether sleeping at home or in a hotel room.

While it's important to prioritize your sleep, the key to your deepest sleep lies in temperature regulation. Keeping a cool sleep environment also ensures that excessive sweating only happens when you're strength training, not during sleep.

Citations

[1] Van Cauter E, Spiegel K, Tasali E, Leproult R. Metabolic consequences of sleep and sleep loss. Sleep Med. 2008 Sep;9 Suppl 1(0 1):S23-8. doi: 10.1016/S1389-9457(08)70013-3. PMID: 18929315; PMCID: PMC4444051.

[2] Williamson AM, Feyer AM. Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. Occup Environ Med. 2000 Oct;57(10):649-55. doi: 10.1136/oem.57.10.649. PMID: 10984335; PMCID: PMC1739867.

[3] Watson, A. M. (2017). Sleep and Athletic Performance. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 16(6), 413–418. View Study

[4] American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2013, May 31). Fatigue and sleep linked to Major League Baseball performance and career longevity. ScienceDaily. View Resource

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