The Sleep and Athletic Performance Connection

What do Roger Federer and Lebron James have in common? Besides being world-class athletes, both get around 12 hours of sleep per night. Usain Bolt, currently the world’s fastest human, and tennis player Maria Sharapova get a mere 10 hours of shut-eye each night. Tennis player Rafael Nadal swears by eight to nine hours.

Clearly, they must know something about the positive power of sleep on athletic performance. But for many serious and recreational athletes, sleep often gets overlooked. It places lower on the priority list than nutrition and physical conditioning.

So what does science say?

“Research studies continue to show that without enough sleep, an athlete’s reaction time is reduced significantly,” shares Chris Washington, an Asset Manager for EXOS, a worldwide human performance company. “One study demonstrated that even moderate amounts of sleep deprivation can produce impairments in adults equivalent to being legally drunk.”

Washington knows a thing or two about sports. He’s a former college football player who is part of leading EXOS’s new partnership with the Sports Medicine Institute at UHealth, located at The Lennar Foundation Medical Center. The collaboration — EXOS’s first with an academic medical center, and its first in South Florida — offers performance programs to complement UHealth’s sports medicine expertise and research reputation.

“In adolescent sports, for instance, a chronic lack of sleep is the leading cause of sports injuries,” says Washington. “Chronic fatigue from lack of sleep also can make you more vulnerable to infections and illnesses, which can sideline you for an extended period.”

When we deprive ourselves of sleep, he adds, our bodies don’t have enough time to regenerate cells and repair wear and tear. Over time, this can have a serious impact on both physical and mental abilities.

“Sleep’s main benefit to any athlete, even a weekend warrior, is recovery,” offers Washington. “Without adequate rest, you’re setting yourself up for irrational choices, non-optimal performance and injuries that could sideline your season, or far worse.”

Here are some ways to stay sharp on and off the field:

  • Make sleep a priority: Adults should shoot for at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
  • Pay attention to how you feel after getting a certain amount of sleep: Use that as a guide for how much sleep your individual body may need.
  • Don’t believe that energy drinks can replace sleep: While cold and refreshing, the “high” gained from energy drinks is temporary, and does not safely enhance performance.
  • Do drink water all day long to stay hydrated: Water contains nutrients and minerals needed to help your body function; and not having enough water by bedtime can counteract some of sleep’s intended benefits.

Interested in optimizing your own performance? Call EXOS, at UHealth’s Sports Medicine Institute, at (305) 689-3967. Or stop by daily between 8 am and 5:30 pm at 5555 Ponce De Leon Boulevard in Coral Gables.