How Much Sleep do Athletes Need?

Last Updated on April 16, 2023 by Andrew Pirie

How Much Sleep Do Athletes Need?

Sleep for athletes can even be 9-12 hours; the body usually cycles in 1-and-a-half-hour increments.

A Comprehensive Strategy for Long-Term Athlete Development Charles H. Samuels, MD, CCFP, DABSM & Brent N. Alexander, M.Sc Post-exercise recovery and regeneration (PERR.  It is as important as the training regimen to the complex adaptive process of increasing athletic performance. 1 The foundation of PERR is sleep. Sleep constitutes the passive recovery, regeneration, and rest process.


Sleep in athletes, Recovery, and Regeneration

The role of sleep and the importance of sleep in Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) is the focus of this section.

Sleep for athletes factors have also been shown to have a direct effect on metabolic processes, including

  • energy
  • balance
  • appetite
  • weight control.

More importantly, sleep extension and circadian rhythm research in athlete populations. It has also provided objective evidence that confirms these relationships’ significance and the importance of considering sleep in LTAD and can view the relationship of sleep to PERR and performance in a structured fashion.


  1. length (total sleep requirement: hours/night)
  2. quality (sleep disorders, environmental disturbance, or fragmentation)
  3. phase (circadian timing of sleep)


Are the key factors affecting the overall recuperative outcome of the sleep state?


These three parameters of sleep affect an athlete’s ability to

  1. Train
  2. Maximize the training response
  3. Recover

Most noteworthy, these parameters change throughout an athlete’s career and life. Therefore, the athlete, parents, and coaches have to adjust to the changing sleep requirements throughout the athlete’s career.

How Much Sleep do Athletes Need?
How Much Sleep Do Athletes Need?


Finally, attending to the importance of sleep will


  1. Reduce the risk of overtraining/under-recovery
  2. enhance resistance to illness
  3. improve recovery from injury.

There are great interest and debate over the optimum amount of sleep (sleep length) required for humans to recuperate and function normally.

While sleep requirements change throughout an individual’s life (figures 1 and 2), figures 1 and 2 describe the general patterns of changes in sleep requirements and composition (sleep stages). Throughout a lifetime, provide sleep researchers/educators with the information to guide the athletes’ advice. It is a safe assumption that an athlete’s sleep requirement would be greater than of the average individual who is not an athlete based on training demands.

Therefore, establishing guidelines for athletes at various stages in their career development for sleep requirements, providing tools to assess sleep patterns/routines accurately, and implementing strategies to achieve the recommended amount of sleep are important practical interventions.

Athletes, parents, and coaches need to be aware of the fact that at the time in life (12–18 years old) when adolescents require the most amount of sleep (9–10 hours per night), they tend to develop a delay in their biological clock (circadian sleep phase) that reduces the amount of time available for sleep. This results in chronic sleep restriction during a time of increasing training demands, growth, and development.

Get the Full PDF here

How Much Sleep do Athletes Need?
How Much Sleep Do Athletes Need?


How does sleep affect athletic performance?

Getting extra sleep over an extended period improves athletic performance, mood, and alertness.

This is according to the research abstract. At the same time, it will be presented on June 9 at the SLEEP 2008 22nd Annual Meeting of the  (APSS) in Baltimore, Md.


Mah Suggests the following

  1. Make sleep a part of your regular training regimen.
  2. Extend nightly sleep for several weeks to cut your sleep debt before a competition.
  3. Maintain a low sleep debt by obtaining a sufficient amount of nightly sleep (seven to eight hours for adults, nine or more hours for teens and young adults).
  4. Keep a regular sleep-wake schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same times every day.
  5. Take brief naps to obtain more sleep during the day, especially if drowsy.


Also, participants in this ongoing study were five healthy students from the Stanford University men’s and women’s swimming teams.

For the first two weeks of the study, the students maintained their usual sleep-wake pattern. Also, the athletes then extended their sleep to 10 hours per day for six to seven weeks.

And assessed athletic performance after each regularly scheduled swim practice.

Hence after obtaining extra sleep, athletes swam a 15-meter meter sprint 0.51 seconds faster, reacted 0.15 seconds quicker off the blocks, improved turn time by 0.10 seconds, and increased kick strokes by 5.0 kicks.


“These results begin to elucidate the importance of sleep on athletic performance. More specifically, how sleep is a significant factor in achieving peak athletic performance,” said lead author Cheri Mah of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory.

“While this study focuses specifically on collegiate swimmers. It agrees with data from my other studies of different sports. It suggests that athletes across all sports can greatly benefit from extra sleep and gain the extra competitive edge to perform at their highest level.”

And can read the Full Article here.

How Much Sleep Do Athletes Need?


Sports Sleeping: Lack of sleep can affect performance

How Much Sleep do Athletes Need?
How Much Sleep Do Athletes Need?

How Much Sleep do Athletes Need?

Lack of sleep can reduce an athlete’s cardiovascular performance by 11%. These are the measures to take…


As a conditioning coach, I am often faced with young athletes struggling to balance work pressures or study with a sports career. It is not unusual for them to feel that there are just not enough hours in the day to fit everything in.


Unfortunately, the first thing to suffer is usually their sleep. Late-night revision sessions, coupled with early morning practices, can result in athletes trying to survive on as little as 4-6 hours of sleep per night.


If this pattern is extended for several weeks. You will very soon be dealing with an athlete who is


  • burnt out
  • lacking motivation
  • struggling to find form in his/her chosen event.


While To be able to help an athlete who may have poor sleeping patterns, it is important to understand what happens during sleep. How can this affect athletic performance? And provide some simple guidelines to help such athletes achieve a good night’s sleep.


Fortunately, experts from Wheaton College in the US have provided some basic information to help coaches and trainers understand what happens during sleep and how it can affect performance.


The US study found that athletes have an increased need for total sleep time, and slow-wave sleep was the most beneficial type. According to Peter Walters, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at Wheaton College, sleep can be broken down into five stages.

Before you fall asleep, beta brain waves (the type of brain waves that occur when you are awake) are replaced by alpha waves. Alpha waves indicate a state of being awake yet deeply relaxed. Once you have been in this state for between 5-20 minutes, the mind and body will be ready for the first sleep stage.



When is the best time to Sleep?

By Fredrik Pemji


Many articles have been written about the fact that adults need about 8 hours of sleep per night. The fact is that some people may need more or less. The real question should be, WHEN are you getting your sleep, athletes?

You can get a full 8 hours of sleep, but if you went to bed at 2 am and woke up at 10 am, you will not be in tip-top shape. And not compared to if you slept at 10 pm and woke up at 6 am. It’s crucial to have the right amount of sleep and sleep at the right time.


Best Range

The best time range to go to bed to help you wake up in great shape is between 9 pm and midnight. This is for adults 18-45 years of age. Older people tend to sleep earlier than that due to their age and lack of energy, which is normal. If you sleep later than midnight, even with the right amount of hours you need, it is still not optimal for you.

Sleeping is filled with mysteries even to this day. We don’t know truly why we sleep exactly, but it seems that when the sun goes down, we should go to sleep as well! Let me tell you, I’ve dealt with insomnia for years. I’ve had extremely odd sleeping patterns.

I would go to bed at 1-2 am because I was working so much, and even with adequate sleeping hours, I was always tired and out of energy throughout the day. So I changed my pattern. I decided to go to bed earlier, usually between 10 pm and midnight, and by 6 am, I would wake up on my own. That’s right; I don’t need an alarm clock anymore. Waking up when you want to wake up and not because you have to is a great feeling! To do that, you need to sleep at the right time.

How Much Sleep do Athletes Need?
How Much Sleep Do Athletes Need?

To help you get adequate sleep,

  • don’t do anything too physically or mentally strenuous at least 2 hours before bedtime.
  • Don’t eat a relatively large meal close to your sleep time.
  • Make sure you use your bed to sleep and not to watch TV.

This will train your mind to associate your bedroom with sleep and nothing else. Leave your stress and worries at your bedroom door! Clear your thoughts, and enjoy your sleep. Try this, and you will be surprised how early your eyes will open on their own. Also, you will notice an increase in your energy throughout your day. And while it’s normal to get tired by 8-9 pm, that will only make it that much easier to fall asleep by 10-11 pm.

To fix your sleeping cycle. And either try not to sleep an entire night so that by early evening you will be so tired you will sleep earlier, or do an activity that requires a lot of mental or physical energy so that you will be drained and need sleep to regenerate. Also, just like that, you can fix your sleeping issues. If I can do it, and I was a BIG insomniac for years, then you can too. When it comes to sleep, keep in mind that timing is everything.



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