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How Much Does Sleep Affect Athletic Performance?

Apr 15, 2023

By Shawn Ambrosino - Team Nutrex

Sleep, often overlooked, is one of the most important elements to boost your performance and recovery on the mats and in the GYM. How much does sleep affect athletic performance? It seems quite a lot! Here are some tips to improve sleep to increase physical performance...

*Editor’s Note: The following article is a submission from our friends over at Rolling Times Media about sleep and athletic performance… enjoy!

Getting good quality sleep is crucial for your well-being and can significantly impact your physical, psychological, emotional, and athletic performance.

If you want to perform your best in combat sports or any other activity, prioritizing sleep should be at the top of your list.

Research shows poor-quality sleep can harm your performance on the mats and at the gym.

However, the good news is that the opposite is also true, with adequate rest producing positive outcomes on the mats and in life.

By adhering to scientifically supported suggestions for enhancing sleep quality, combat athletes and GYM goers alike can significantly improve their energy levels, concentration, and recovery time… all of which can boost their athletic performance.

How Long Should I Sleep?

The key distinguishing factor between poor-quality and good-quality sleep lies in the length of time spent asleep and the environment.

Typically, a least 6 hours of rest is considered sufficient for optimal sleeping conditions. Yet, this number could fluctuate depending on age, physical activity level, or other daily commitments.

Achieving ideal sleeping circumstances requires a dark space with a pleasant temperature and comfortable bedding – anything less than 6 hours and within an unsuitable atmosphere will result in reduced quality shut-eye.

Is Blue Light Tapping You Out?

With the advent of modern technology and its omnipresent screens, blue light emitting devices — such as TVs, smartphones, and tablets – Combat athletes and gym goers alike often suffer from sleep deprivation without knowing the actual cause.

A 2019 study found that these blue light-emitting electronics affect melatonin secretion, thus disrupting good-quality sleep daily1. With instant communication and the endless scrolling on Instagram at our fingertips – it’s difficult for many athletes to unplug and put their phones away when needed to get a restful night’s sleep. 

Student-athletes are tasked with an ambitious balancing act between athletics and academics as they strive for excellence in both areas.

This can be particularly daunting for youngsters or those who need more guidance to get them through such difficulties.

To keep up with their obligations, student-athletes often give little thought to the amount of sleep they’re getting at least weekly – which, if done regularly, has detrimental effects on either one or both areas, resulting in increased levels of stress, less restful nights, and ultimately curing the very thing they set out to avoid; performing sub-optimally in their combat pursuits and/or grades.

Do You Travel For Work Or Competition?

For athletes, traveling can significantly impact the quality of their sleep and performance.

As athletes’ experience/skillset level increases and thus the availability of more prestigious tournaments, they may need to travel more frequently.

The transportation type used, transit duration, and any time zone changes experienced during the trip all factor into how much it will disrupt their regular sleeping routine.

A 2017 study explained that… “Travel for competition also may directly interfere with performance due to alterations in sleep schedules and dissociation with circadian rhythms2.”

Long flights can induce severe changes in the circadian rhythm, sleep quality, and motivation that may persist for an extended period post-arrival. Providing further insight, athletes often contend with inadequate rest due to their intensive physical activity, particularly when participating in multiple events or rolls/sparing daily.

The amount of training needed, as well as the duration of it, increases significantly at higher competitive levels, which can compound the problem even further.

Along with the travel challenges, stress, and anxiety usually come hand and hand with tough competition to some degree, which can have a detrimental impact on both the duration and quality of sleep.

Are You Depleting Your Muscle Glycogen Each Night?

All of these factors… electronics, academic pressure, travel, and competition can negatively affect the quality of sleep you get throughout the week, but in what ways exactly?

In 2017, the research uncovered that sleep deprivation can substantially impair endurance performance – with particular effects on perceived exertion. “Pre-exercise muscle glycogen stores have been found to be decreased after sleep deprivation…2“. 

Since the 1960s, it has become more and more evident that muscle glycogen is tremendously essential for athletic performance. Apart from eating right with a disciplined nutrition plan, athletes need to ensure they get enough restful sleep to avoid any adverse outcomes from draining their muscle glycogen stores.

Studies have demonstrated a decrease in accuracy during competition when sleep quality was lacking; conversely, better-quality shut-eye correlated with improved results2.

At the peak levels of combat sports (grappling, MMA, wrestling, Judo, etc.), a single moment over a microsecond of time can decide whether you take home the win or tap out. As such, any decrease in athletic performance due to inadequate sleep should never be overlooked.

Can Sleep Prevent Injuries?

Unfortunately, injuries are often an inescapable reality for any grappler or MMA athlete, which can lead to many consequences, from missing one practice to ending a career.

Thus, any attempt at limiting their occurrences should be taken seriously or at least considered, with quality sleep being one such measure.

In fact, according to research conducted in 2019, “Sleep deprivation increases pro-inflammatory cytokines, which impairs immune system function, impedes muscle recovery and repair from damage, leads to autonomic nervous system imbalance (simulating overtraining symptoms) …1“. 

It is no secret that combat athletes require regular, consistent training to remain in peak condition, whether on the mats or in a cage – yet proper rest is arguably equally important… if our muscles are not given adequate time to recuperate, they are forced to perform at a weaker state thus increase the risk of injury.

A 2019 study on athlete sleep and injuries determined that individuals who experienced poor-quality sleep were more likely to sustain an injury during a game or practice session1.

Even more so when there exists an inverse relationship between the duration of given rest and the amount of physical strain endured by the individual.

What Can I Do To Improve My Sleep?

Fortunately, there are various ways athletes can boost the quality and quantity of their sleep for improved performance.

Establishing a consistent sleeping schedule that takes advantage of your body’s natural circadian rhythm is critical; try to commit to going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day.

Additionally, don’t forget it’s equally important to give yourself ample time before bedtime to relax and de-stress from your day – this will help you drift off into dreamland faster!

Likewise, athletes should create an ideal atmosphere for sleeping, from lighting down to the sheets. This could be done by darkening the room with blinds or eye masks and removing any form of stimulation (phones, televisions, iPads).

Caffeine and other stimulants must only be consumed in the morning, while sedating medications should be taken as little as possible. It would also help if you could mentally associate/frame their bed with restful sleep and intimacy which will cause you to more easily drift off each time you hit the sack.

How Much Does Sleep Affect Athletic Performance?

Sleep can DEFINITELY affect athletic performance…

Studies show lack of sleep and poor performance are directly linked.

Quality sleep is essential for any gym goer or combat athlete seeking to boost their performance, as it aids in assisting the body in a plethora of actions, with one of the main actions being the natural recovery process.

Despite popular belief, muscles do not grow from going to the gym; that’s where they are broken down. They grow in size and strength during periods of rest.

As such, developing sleep hygiene practices should be a priority for any grappling/striking athlete hoping to take their athletic abilities to the next level; after all, quality sleep offers countless benefits, and its importance cannot be overstated.

Work your fingers to the bone in the gym and on the mats, but remember where the real growth is made, and invest in yourself every day by sleeping like a world champion.

Editor’s Note 2: Sleep is important… and if you train hard – you understand how much lack of sleep affects your workouts. As mentioned in the article – depleting our glycogen stores could be the biggest factor to lacking performance due to poor sleep. That’s why we recommend our line of BCAA’s & EAA’s to help ensure your glycogen stores stay topped off. If you’re a poor sleeper and are starting to find that your performance in the gym is suffering – Here is a link to our top selling recovery formulas to ensure that sleep or not – you perform at your very best! Click here to grab some today!


1https://doi.org/10.1055/a-0905-3103

2https://doi.org/10.1249/jsr.0000000000000418

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