How Poor Sleep Drastically Reduces Athletic Performance

“If you’re sleep deprived, and you need to be in performance mode, your body can only sip the jet the fuel it needs, not gulp it.”

If you’re an elite athlete or train routinely to improve health and maintain your youthful ability to climb, run, lift weights, ski, or even just to feel better, you’d be amazed at how poor sleep hygiene and reduced sleep can dramatically interfere with your performance.

Not much hard research has been done on exercise performance and sleep, but a handful of studies have taken a look at sleep deprivation with adults and how it affects athletic ability. Even after just one night of sleep reduction, interruption, or deprivation in males, although lung function, endurance, and muscle strength were not affected, subtle tasks requiring fast reaction times were significantly reduced.

In women, similar results were found. One study suggested a cumulative and cascading effect with continue sleep deprivation, say, more than two nights. Maximum output was not as affected, meaning trying to squeeze in that last rep, but pumping out your normal set prior to that last effort became more difficult and tiring.

Following just several nights of sleep interruption or reduction, numerous biologic functions are known to take a hit. Everything from glucose metabolism, hormone function (think adrenaline needed for athletic boost) appetite, protein synthesis, and more. All of these factors essentially leave your body with only the ability to sip its necessary jet fuel rather than gulp it, when your body is under elite performance demand.

Curiously, science has also taken a look at extended sleep patterns too, as well as napping and micro sleep events. Overall, although there aren’t a huge number of studies available, the data suggests that adding a little bit of added sleep time, and taking a short power nap, can markedly increase performance. One study, by May et al, instructed six basketball players to obtain as much sleep as possible after two weeks of normal sleep routine. These guys took naps, slept in late, and avoided all night partying. The extra Z-time produced faster sprints, more bullseye free throws, improvement in mood, reduction in fatigue, and more energy on the court.

Napping in particular seems to be beneficial as well to performance and elite athletes. A brief 20-30 minute nap especially benefits workouts in the late afternoon or evening. Napping improved sprint performance, as well as tactical performance skills. Taking a regular short snooze in the afternoon also benefits athletes who train early in the morning or run distance events that typically start at dawn.

Athletes and coaches rank sleep as the most significant problem when athletes are confronted with fatigue and exhaustion, being the #1 complaint observed when taking a clinical history from an individual. 

When asked, according to a 2006 Gallup Poll in the US, average healthy individuals reported average sleep times of 6.8 hours during the week, and 7.4 hours on weekends. Sleep habits of elite athletes, such as Olympic divers, rowers,  and speed skaters averaged 8.5-9.0 hours in bed, but had more difficulty falling asleep, poorer sleep efficiency, and in the end, had similar sleep times with average healthy individuals.

Sleep problems in athletes typically occur at two points, one being immediately before an important competition, and during normal training routines. Sleep disruption can be due to early training sessions, poor sleep habits such as exposure to white light while in bed, nocturnal bathroom visits, caffeine, and event anxiety. Anecdotal evidence even suggests that soccer players who perform at night, have sleep issues because of the interruption of normal diurnal rhythms.

How Poor Sleep Drastically Reduces Athletic Performance

If you’re an elite athlete or train routinely to improve health and maintain your youthful ability to climb, run, lift weights, ski, or even just to feel better, you’d be amazed at how poor sleep hygiene and reduced sleep can dramatically interfere with your performance.

Not much hard research has been done on exercise performance and sleep, but a handful of studies have taken a look at sleep deprivation with adults and how it affects athletic ability. Even after just one night of sleep reduction, interruption, or deprivation in males, although lung function, endurance, and muscle strength were not affected, subtle tasks requiring fast reaction times were significantly reduced.

In women, similar results were found. One study suggested a cumulative and cascading effect with continue sleep deprivation, say, more than two nights. Maximum output was not as affected, meaning trying to squeeze in that last rep, but pumping out your normal set prior to that last effort became more difficult and tiring.

Following just several nights of sleep interruption or reduction, numerous biologic functions are known to take a hit. Everything from glucose metabolism, hormone function (think adrenaline needed for athletic boost) appetite, protein synthesis, and more. All of these factors essentially leave your body with only the ability to sip its necessary jet fuel rather than gulp it, when your body is under elite performance demand.

Curiously, science has also taken a look at extended sleep patterns too, as well as napping and micro sleep events. Overall, although there aren’t a huge number of studies available, the data suggests that adding a little bit of added sleep time, and taking a short power nap, can markedly increase performance. One study, by May et al, instructed six basketball players to obtain as much sleep as possible after two weeks of normal sleep routine. These guys took naps, slept in late, and avoided all night partying. The extra Z-time produced faster sprints, more bullseye free throws, improvement in mood, reduction in fatigue, and more energy on the court.

Napping in particular seems to be beneficial as well to performance and elite athletes. A brief 20-30 minute nap especially benefits workouts in the late afternoon or evening. Napping improved sprint performance, as well as tactical performance skills. Taking a regular short snooze in the afternoon also benefits athletes who train early in the morning or run distance events that typically start at dawn.

Athletes and coaches rank sleep as the most significant problem when athletes are confronted with fatigue and exhaustion, being the #1 complaint observed when taking a clinical history from an individual. 

When asked, according to a 2006 Gallup Poll in the US, average healthy individuals reported average sleep times of 6.8 hours during the week, and 7.4 hours on weekends. Sleep habits of elite athletes, such as Olympic divers, rowers,  and speed skaters averaged 8.5-9.0 hours in bed, but had more difficulty falling asleep, poorer sleep efficiency, and in the end, had similar sleep times with average healthy individuals.

Sleep problems in athletes typically occur at two points, one being immediately before an important competition, and during normal training routines. Sleep disruption can be due to early training sessions, poor sleep habits such as exposure to white light while in bed, nocturnal bathroom visits, caffeine, and event anxiety. Anecdotal evidence even suggests that soccer players who perform at night, have sleep issues because of the interruption of normal diurnal rhythms.


If you’re an elite athlete or train routinely to improve health and maintain your youthful ability to climb, run, lift weights, ski, or even just to feel better, you’d be amazed at how poor sleep hygiene and reduced sleep can dramatically interfere with your performance.

Not much hard research has been done on exercise performance and sleep, but a handful of studies have taken a look at sleep deprivation with adults and how it affects athletic ability. Even after just one night of sleep reduction, interruption, or deprivation in males, although lung function, endurance, and muscle strength were not affected, subtle tasks requiring fast reaction times were significantly reduced.

In women, similar results were found. One study suggested a cumulative and cascading effect with continue sleep deprivation, say, more than two nights. Maximum output was not as affected, meaning trying to squeeze in that last rep, but pumping out your normal set prior to that last effort became more difficult and tiring.

Following just several nights of sleep interruption or reduction, numerous biologic functions are known to take a hit. Everything from glucose metabolism, hormone function (think adrenaline needed for athletic boost) appetite, protein synthesis, and more. All of these factors essentially leave your body with only the ability to sip its necessary jet fuel rather than gulp it, when your body is under elite performance demand.

Tips And Pointers From The Sleep Foundation

Tips And Pointers From The Sleep Foundation

Curiously, science has also taken a look at extended sleep patterns too, as well as napping and micro sleep events. Overall, although there aren’t a huge number of studies available, the data suggests that adding a little bit of added sleep time, and taking a short power nap, can markedly increase performance. One study, by May et al, instructed six basketball players to obtain as much sleep as possible after two weeks of normal sleep routine. These guys took naps, slept in late, and avoided all night partying. The extra Z-time produced faster sprints, more bullseye free throws, improvement in mood, reduction in fatigue, and more energy on the court.

Napping in particular seems to be beneficial as well to performance and elite athletes. A brief 20-30 minute nap especially benefits workouts in the late afternoon or evening. Napping improved sprint performance, as well as tactical performance skills. Taking a regular short snooze in the afternoon also benefits athletes who train early in the morning or run distance events that typically start at dawn.

Athletes and coaches rank sleep as the most significant problem when athletes are confronted with fatigue and exhaustion, being the #1 complaint observed when taking a clinical history from an individual. 

When asked, according to a 2006 Gallup Poll in the US, average healthy individuals reported average sleep times of 6.8 hours during the week, and 7.4 hours on weekends. Sleep habits of elite athletes, such as Olympic divers, rowers,  and speed skaters averaged 8.5-9.0 hours in bed, but had more difficulty falling asleep, poorer sleep efficiency, and in the end, had similar sleep times with average healthy individuals. You can check our article about sleep time, and the damage you could be causing by failing to get the restorative sleep you need.

Sleep problems in athletes typically occur at two points, one being immediately before an important competition, and during normal training routines. Sleep disruption can be due to early training sessions, poor sleep habits such as exposure to white light while in bed, nocturnal bathroom visits, caffeine, and event anxiety. Anecdotal evidence even suggests that soccer players who perform at night, have sleep issues because of the interruption of normal diurnal rhythms.

Sleep is one of the body’s most important biological functions and affects performance, cognition, complex task performance, and mental health. Performance athletes should strongly consider a sleeping and napping regimen and build a solid schedule for sleep as well as establish a Z-Cave mentality both at home and while on the road.