Sleep and Athletic Performance: 7 Tips to Get Better Sleep for Sports Performance

Sleep is crucial when you’re training for a sport, whether it’s running a marathon, playing in a soccer game, or prepping for an upcoming tournament. Sleep has a significant impact on our energy levels, focus, and performance in all aspects of life, especially sport.

Sleep can also be crucial to recovery if you’re working your way back from a sports injury. Don’t skimp on sleep during healing. At MOSH, we want to help you perform at the top of your game, and we know that proper sleep is a critical part of optimal health.

Why is Sleep is Crucial for Athletes

It’s no secret that sleep is essential to our health. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior training for your first 5K, getting sleep exhaustion takes a toll. Sleep deprivation can affect our outlook, our mindset, and our performance.

We all know that psychology is nearly as critical to a win as training in sport. Much of competition is mind over matter, and when you’re exhausted, your mind will not perform at the top of its game. Even a few hours of sleep deprivation will considerably impact our performance both on the field and off.

Take daylight savings, for example. Even the one hour of springing forward causes a significant 6% increase in fatal car crashes. If you’re too tired to operate a car, you’re likely too tired to give the game your all. We see this often in younger college athletes. It’s not uncommon to see excessive fatigue and a tougher time with recovery in those first few years of college when athletes are attempting to balance their workload, training, and non-sports-related stressors.

But even well into adulthood, our athletic performance hinges on sleep. When putting forth extra exertion during training periods, our body may require an extra hour of sleep or more. According to the National Athletic Trainers Association, we can achieve this extra sleep by going to bed a little earlier or even catching a mid-afternoon nap.

As with most aspects of sports performance, it’s not just about duration. Sleep quality is also a crucial component of optimal health. A few nights of poor-quality sleep can quickly add up and impact your response times, ability to recover from injury, speed, and agility. Look for a solid 7-8 hours per night to start.

If you want to know how to get better sleep, here are 7 tips to help you refresh and rest your body for optimal conditioning.

7 Ways to Get Better Sleep (to Improve Performance)

As with any training, you may need time to train yourself on these 7 better sleep practices, also known as “sleep hygiene.” Start by making a few incremental changes and build-up to better sleep over the course of a few weeks. Think of it as off-hours training that will improve your performance in all aspects of life, including sport.

1. Make Sleep a Priority

With a busy schedule, sleep may quickly get cut from your to-do list. If you’ve been shaving off 15-30 minutes here and there, start reprioritizing bedtime. Set an alarm about an hour before you’d like to sleep as your signal to get ready for bed.

If your sleep schedule has really gone off track, start building up in 10–15-minute increments. Go to bed about 10-15 minutes earlier each night and continue to get up at a consistent time each morning—build-up every day or two by adding to an earlier bedtime. Soon you’ll be falling asleep fast.

2. Wind Down Before Bed

Insomnia can be psychological. We’re often so worried about having trouble sleeping that it keeps us up at night. Like using positive psychology in the game, you can use positive psychology to give yourself a cue to wind down at bedtime.

Establishing a bedtime routine will go far toward a sleep mindset. Do the same pattern each night—wash up, brush your teeth, and do some self-care activities. For example, you may want to apply a lavender-scented lotion, sip herbal tea, or take a warm (not hot) bath or shower. These activities send the message to your brain that it’s time to rest.

3. Workout at a Consistent Time

Exercise is excellent for getting better sleep. People who exercise regularly often fall asleep faster at night and experience deeper, better-quality sleep. The only time that this doesn’t hold true is when athletes engage in high-intensity activities right before bedtime. So if you have a late game or a late-night trip to the gym, give yourself an hour or two to let your body wind down before you try to sleep.

So should you work out in the morning or at night? To get better sleep, you may want to work out in the morning. Unfortunately, some studies have shown evening exercisers had a better athletic performance, so sleep and athletic performance can be a catch-22. The best time of day to get active is whenever you will be the most consistent. Workout in the morning, afternoon, or evening, but give yourself a window of downtime right before bed.

4. Practice Meditation

If you need help winding down, consider taking up a mindfulness meditation practice. Athletes often have more anxiety and stress before they compete. Anyone who’s laid awake the night before race day or game day knows that pre-competition insomnia is a very real issue. Sleep issues can affect 37-78% of elite athletes.

Mindfulness and meditation can greatly reduce pre-competition jitters. Keep in mind that meditation requires regular practice, just like sleep and sports performance. Studies have shown that meditation can impact anxiety at the neural level—meaning that with regular practice, meditation can rewire the brain to have a better stress response. Try a guided meditation app or YouTube video to get started.

5. Avoid Late-Day Caffeine and Sugar

Sports performance requires energy, and sometimes that energy comes from caffeine. For many athletes, an energy shot or drink can give that extra boost (especially for morning exercise). If you’re reliant on caffeine, don’t worry. The FDA has said that it’s safe to consume 400 milligrams of caffeine per day. That is about four cups of coffee or two energy drinks or shots.

Consume with caution, however—caffeine can take time to metabolize in your system. Therefore, it’s best to get your fix in the morning and avoid highly caffeinated beverages after 2 or 3 pm. If you’re very sensitive to caffeine or struggle to sleep at bedtime, you may want to cut yourself off at noon and reduce your consumption to one or two cups of coffee in the morning.

6. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Ultimately, if you want to sleep better, you need to set yourself up with the right steps for success. That means preparing the room to be cool, dark, and comfortable and avoiding electronics at least an hour before bed. If you’re very sensitive to noise and ambient sound, you may prefer to use white noise or a fan to create a better environment for sound sleep.

If you like to work or watch TV from bed, consider changing up your habits. Pets can also interfere with sleep quality, so you may want to shut the door if possible. Getting proper rest is crucial to your health. Set yourself up with the right practices so you can get a better night’s sleep.

7. Treat Inflammation & Pain

Another thing that affects sleep and sports performance? Pain! If you have sore muscles or any type of pain, it can keep you up at night and contribute to your discomfort on the field and off. Be sure to give your muscles time for recovery during training and treat any soreness and inflammation right away.

For lingering discomfort or if you suspect an injury, don’t sleep or play through the pain. At MOSH, we have a team of sports performance experts who are here to help. We can help you determine the source of your pain and navigate the best course of treatment to get you back to optimal performance.