Written by: Mallorie Stallings
Updated March 26, 2021
Sleep plays a key role in the health of all people. As we sleep each night, our bodies prepare us for the next day, healing and repairing (1) as needed. Because physical recovery occurs during nightly rest, sleep is especially important to athletes that routinely subject their bodies to strenuous physical activity.
Several studies highlight the ways in which sleep gives athletes a competitive edge (2). For example, when basketball players engage in extended sleep (3) — at least 10 hours in bed each night — they tend to have improved sprinting speeds, reaction times, and shooting ability. Conversely, when athletes don't receive enough sleep, their moods worsen and they become more injury-prone (4).
Since sleep and athletic performance are closely linked, athletes know some of the best sleep tips.
How to Sleep Like an Athlete
Even if you don't engage in strenuous physical activity, you can use athletes' sleep tips to improve your own sleep and, by extension, your overall mental and physical health.
Allow Yourself Plenty of Time to Sleep
How much sleep do athletes need? Multiple studies show that receiving extended amounts of sleep benefits athletes (5), which is why athletes like Olympic running champion Usain Bolt sleeps up to 10 hours each night (6). Although the average person should try to stick to the recommended seven to nine hours (7), sleeping more than you currently do might help.
More than one-third of Americans are sleep-deprived (8) and not receiving the minimum seven hours of sleep each night. If you are one of them, consider making changes necessary to allow yourself more sleep.
If you can't easily sleep for longer periods at night, know that naps are another strategy athletes use to increase their total sleep time. Basketball player Stephen Curry enjoys napping in preparation for a game.
Napping comes with many benefits. In addition to improving athletic performance, napping can increase your alertness and cognitive performance (9), helping you stay on top of your own game at both work and home.
Not only does sleep improve athletes' performance, their regular exercise affects sleep positively as well. But you don't have to train intensely for hours daily like an elite athlete to reap the benefits of exercise. Even increasing how many steps you take each day (10) can improve your sleep quality.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene (11) refers to the array of lifestyle and environmental factors that you can adjust to promote quality sleep. Research shows that prioritizing good sleep hygiene helps athletes receive enough sleep. Try incorporating the following sleep hygiene tips into your own life:
- Keep your bedroom quiet.
- Lower the thermostat in the bedroom.
- Use blackout curtains or an eye mask to minimize outside light.
- Don't allow devices such as TVs, phones, and computers into the bedroom.
- Skip big meals late at night.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption to earlier hours.
Football player Tom Brady (12) practices these tips. He doesn't eat a late dinner or drink caffeine or alcohol at night. Also, he keeps his bedroom thermostat set to 65 degrees Fahrenheit and the room free of devices, like smartphones.
Eat Sleep-Promoting Foods
Another sleep trick athletes use is opting for foods that promote sleep (13). Tart cherry juice, kiwi fruit, and tryptophan-rich foods like turkey and tofu have all been shown to improve sleep. But keep in mind, you don't want to eat too much food close to bedtime, even if it is a sleep-promoting food.
Use the Best Mattress for You
The best mattresses for athletes help them obtain important sleep without developing pressure points or discomfort. Similarly, finding the best mattress for your body can help improve your sleep. There is no single ideal mattress that works for everyone — do your research and find what works best for you given your sleep position habits, body weight, and personal preferences.
Monitor Your Sleep Habits
Research shows that athletes aren't great at accurately estimating how much sleep they receive each night. Unfortunately, when an athlete doesn't realize how much sleep they're getting, they can't be sure if they need to make adjustments to their sleep routine. For this reason, trainers often encourage athletes to keep a sleep diary or, in some cases, use sleep tracking technology (14).
Monitoring your own sleep can give you the information you need to improve it. Start by writing down what time you get in and out of bed, if or when you wake up during the night, and any relevant environmental factors, such as lighting (15) and sound.
Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule
A consistent sleep schedule (16) is one of the many tools athletes use to attain high-quality sleep. Determine what bed and wake times work best for you, then try to stick with them. Adhere to your new sleep schedule as closely as you can, even on weekends and vacation, in order to avoid schedule disruptions that might lead to sleep deprivation.
Your ideal schedule may differ from an athlete's sleep schedule, and that's okay. Figure out what time you must wake up, then work backward from there. Count out enough time so that you can relax in bed for 20 or so minutes before falling asleep and still receive at least seven hours by the time your alarm goes off in the morning. Experiment with giving yourself longer sleep times, since many adults require eight or nine hours of sleep each night.
Use Aids to Adjust Your Sleep Schedule
Studies show athletes are able to successfully speed up their adjustment to abrupt sleep schedule changes (17) by strategically using caffeine, melatonin, and over-the-counter sleep aids.
If you are experiencing a disrupted sleep schedule due to traveling or another schedule shift, consider following the athletes' lead. Sleep schedule disruptions caused by jet lag can lead to negative changes in your mood, your ability to think, and your physical performance (18). By using well-timed caffeine to increase alertness and sleep aids to help adjust your sleep schedule, you might be able to avoid some sleep deprivation and the negative effects that accompany it.
Identify Any Underlying Sleep Disorders
Many sleep struggles can be resolved through lifestyle changes and improved sleep hygiene. Some people — athletes included (19) — have sleep disorders, however. If you try to improve your sleep but your efforts don't make much of an impact, consider talking to a doctor. A doctor or sleep specialist can help you determine if you're dealing with a disorder and, if so, how to treat it so you can obtain much-needed restorative sleep.
- https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/node/4605 Accessed on March 23, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29135639/ Accessed on March 23, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21731144/ Accessed on March 23, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32005349/ Accessed on March 23, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29352373/ Accessed on March 24, 2021.
- https://www.huffpost.com/entry/these-famous-athletes-rely-on-sleep_n_5659345 Accessed on March 24, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29073412/ Accessed on March 24, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26890214/ Accessed on March 24, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19645971/ Accessed on March 24, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33315927/ Accessed on March 24, 2021.
- https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/sleep_hygiene.html Accessed on March 24, 2021.
- https://www.cnbc.com/2021/02/06/-inside-tom-bradys-sleep-routine.html Accessed on March 24, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30979048/ Accessed on March 24, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31093921/ Accessed on March 24, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30988646/ Accessed on March 24, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26275673/ Accessed on March 24, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29161185/ Accessed on March 24, 2021.
- https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/jet-lag Accessed on March 24, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27367265/ Accessed on March 24, 2021.