Lebron James, a professional basketball player, and three-time champion sleeps 12 hours per night. Rafael Nadal, who owns 14 grand slam titles and nine french open championships, sleeps 10 hours per night. Michelle Wie, the youngest player to qualify for a USGA amateur championship says she doesn’t feel her best if she gets less than 10 hours of sleep per night. Usain Bolt, the first man to receive six Olympic gold medals in sprinting, sleeps at least 10 hours per night as well.
Sleep is an essential component of performance so it’s no coincidence that it’s a non-negotiable for top performers around the world. In this article, we’ll look at the three most important aspects of sleep as it relates to performance.
Recovery & Hormones
The two hormones that are crucial for recovery are testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH), and sleep plays a vital role in the production of both. If you are not getting an adequate amount of sleep each night, your recovery and performance will suffer. After one week of sleeping five hours or less, a man’s testosterone drops to that of an eleven-year-old male. (1) We know that testosterone is critical for reproduction, but it also plays a vital role in performance by increasing neurotransmitters which encourage tissue growth and protein synthesis.
As for Human Growth Hormone, which helps maintain, build, and repair tissues in the brain and other organs, it also helps build muscle mass, boost metabolism, and burn fat. (2) The most significant production of HGH occurs during deep sleep, which signifies the importance of both quality and quantity of sleep. Sleep disruptions, known or not, can have a significant impact on the body’s natural release of HGH. (3)
Injury Prevention & Health
There have been many studies done on the importance of sleep as it relates to injuries, but one, in particular, found that those who slept less than six hours before a big event have an increased rate of injury. (4) Tired athletes are slow to respond and insufficient sleep doesn’t allow the body time to repair from the stress of training.
Lack of sleep also affects the immune system, making sleep-deprived athletes more susceptible to illness. In turn, this interferes with training schedules and time spent in the gym or on the field. If you are constantly skipping training sessions due to illness or injury, you should be taking a look at your sleep habits as a potential cause.
Faster Reaction Times & Fewer Mistakes
Whether you are trying to improve in a specific sport, lose some fat mass, or want to live long and prosper, reaction time is critical when it comes to getting the most out of your training session. Numerous studies have shown that even a minimal loss of sleep can cause reactions time to drop to a similar level of someone who is legally drunk. (5) Reaction time is necessary for sports such as tennis, running, Olympic lifting, functional fitness, baseball, football (the list goes on), but is also an essential component of any training modality in order to maximize efficiency and reduce the risk of injury.
When your sleep is optimal, and your reaction times are faster, you are also apt to make fewer mistakes! Sleep fuels the body’s ability to concentrate, remember, and learn, therefore a lack of sleep will result in trouble organizing and retaining new information. If you are struggling with developing new skills related to your sport, a good night’s sleep before AND after your training session may be just what you need.
It’s not surprising that sleep is a crucial component of both health and performance, so much so that we have touched on this subject in many different forms; Why sleep is crucial in building muscle mass, six ways to improve sleep, and 8 reasons why we sleep. If you aren't getting enough out of your fitness program, and are looking for a coach to support you in more ways than just on the training floor, schedule a strategy session with a Central Athlete coach today!