By Stephanie Young
Updated March 18, 2021
Regular quality sleep can provide a long list of benefits for your overall well-being. Consider that feeling of rejuvenation you feel after a night of sound sleep — that feeling alone may be worth putting in a little extra effort to strive for quality sleep each night. In addition to simply feeling nice, sleep helps you thrive in a number of crucial ways and in many parts of your life. Quality sleep can positively affect your physical and cognitive performance in the upcoming day. In turn, sleep deprivation, or lack of sleep, can hurt your overall performance.
It is essential to get your recommended amount of sleep each night for optimal performance. Experts suggest that healthy adults should be getting seven to nine hours of sleep (1) each night. If you are an athlete, that range may need to be even higher, depending on the level of physical activity and amount of energy you exert throughout the day.
How Does Sleep Affect Performance?
Many things are happening in your brain and body while you are sleeping, each of which affects your physical and cognitive performance. Sleep is an active and complex process (2) that helps you stay healthy, learn information, form memories, build muscle mass, repair cells and tissues, and much more.
Physical Performance and Sleep
Many athletic coaches and trainers may choose to push their athletes with strenuous exercise for optimal physical performance. However, the importance of sleep is often overlooked, as it can play a considerable role in exercise recovery. In fact, some research suggests that sleep is a vital function (3) that should be built into an athlete’s training program for improved performance.
- Stamina and Endurance: According to research, even one night of sleep deprivation (4) can have a negative effect on endurance performance. Your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) (5) may play a role in this decreased performance. After sleep deprivation, you start your exercise feeling as though you are working harder than you actually are (higher RPE), and so you are likely to become exhausted more easily.
- Speed: Speed can be affected by sleep as well. A full night of sleep on a regular basis is recommended, but even a short afternoon nap can give your performance a boost. A study measuring sprint times after a post-lunch nap found that recorded times improved (6) in both a 2-minute and a 20-minute sprint.
- Reaction Time: Extended sleep (7) has been shown to improve reaction time and alertness significantly. A study measuring tennis serve accuracy (8) showed significant improvements after extending sleep by two hours (including napping, when necessary).
Cognitive Performance and Sleep
Sleep plays an important role in brain function. A growing body of research has focused on the specifics of what happens in the brain and body during sleep, shedding light on how sleep contributes to daytime performance.
- Memory and Recall: You need sleep to complete the process of building memories. The new information you learn and the memories you make throughout the day continue processing as you sleep. The hippocampus remains active and working during sleep, consolidating and organizing those memories. Research has shown that if you can sleep within a few hours of learning (9), you are more likely to recall the information you learned.
- Concentration and Alertness: Numerous sleep studies have shown that quality sleep will make you feel more alert and have better concentration than if you are sleep deprived. If you have had some sleep loss, a short afternoon nap can help you recover from the negative effects. A nap will lower your heart rate and body temperature and may make you feel more alert.
How Can You Get Better Sleep to Improve Performance?
It is clear that sleep can positively influence your daytime performance, both physically and cognitively. It is important to make quality sleep a priority when possible. If you are struggling to get good sleep on a regular basis, there are many ways to improve your sleep hygiene. Here are some top tips to consider:
- Create a bedtime routine that allows your body and mind to wind down
- Try to get to sleep and wake up at the same time each day (including weekends)
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime
- Avoid smoking at all times, if possible
- Try to avoid high-intensity exercises close to bedtime
- Minimize outside noise and light in the bedroom
- Lower the thermostat to keep the bedroom cool
If you are still finding it difficult to sleep at night or believe you are sleeping too much, consult your doctor for individualized recommendations.
Make Healthy Sleep a Priority
Healthy adults should be getting about seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night. Sleep can help your physical performance in numerous ways throughout the day.
Athletes and coaches should consider using sleep as part of their training process since it can help with endurance, speed, and reaction time. Your cognitive performance is also affected by sleep in many ways. Sleep helps further the process of consolidation and organization of memories.
You will be more alert and have better concentration when you have had a good night of sleep versus a night of sleep deprivation or continued sleep loss. Working on improving your sleep hygiene is a great way to get better sleep and enhance your everyday performance.
- https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Fulltext/2013/10000/Sleep,_Recovery,_and_Athletic_Performance__A_Brief.8.aspx Accessed on March 16, 2021.
- https://medlineplus.gov/healthysleep.html Accessed on March 16, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31288293/ Accessed on March 16, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19543909/ Accessed on March 16, 2021.
- https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/measuring/exertion.htm Accessed on March 16, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17852691/ Accessed on March 16, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15341888/ Accessed on March 16, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26325012/ Accessed on March 16, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16741280/ Accessed on March 16, 2021.