10 Proven Sleep Strategies for High-Performance Athletes

5/8/2023 4 min. reading

In an XPS book review of Inconvenient Sleep: Why Teams Win and Lose, authors Pat Byrne and Suzanne Byrne explained the massive impact sleep (or lack thereof) has on athletes and athletic performance. 

We spend 30% of our entire lives sleeping, and “it is physiologically vital that we spend about a third of our lives unconscious,” says numerous scientific studies

Sleeping is like breathing, eating, and drinking. If you don’t sleep — or don’t get enough sleep — you can’t function properly. 

So, here are 10 ways athletes can sleep better to improve their athletic performance . . . 


10 ways to Get Better Sleep as an Athlete 

Have a regular sleep schedule


Chances are, you’ve got a pretty regular training schedule. Sleep should be the same. 

Having a regular pre-sleep and sleep routine (naturally, this will be harder to do when traveling for games) will make it easier to get a better night’s sleep. 


Don’t use your bed as an extension of your office or lounge 

Your bed should only be for sleep and sex. Nothing else. If you watch TV, work, or are engaged in lengthy text or message conversations, then those activities are best moved to another room. Otherwise, you’re detracting from your bedroom being a place of rest. 


Screens negatively impact sleep

As many people know, the blue glow of our phones reduces melatonin production, making it more difficult to get to sleep. It makes your body think it’s time to stay awake rather than sleep. 

Whenever possible, switch your phone off before bed, leave it in another room, or at the very least, reduce the brightness (put it in sleep mode). 


Nap when you can

Being an athlete, at any level, is physically and mentally demanding. At the same time, schedules usually allow for gaps in the day when you’ve got nothing to do. Take a nap whenever you can. 

Research shows that napping can have a positive effect on your performance, especially if you’ve had a bad night’s sleep or have a training or gym session scheduled for later in the day. 

Avoid coffee or energy drinks before bed

Coffee and energy drinks are widely consumed by athletes. It comes with numerous benefits, such as increasing focus and alertness. However, the closer you get to bedtime, caffeine has been shown to impact your ability to sleep. 

Caffeine is best avoided at least 3 hours before sleep. Otherwise, it impacts wakefulness, increases rapid eye movement, and reduces slow-wave sleep. 


If you can’t sleep, stop trying for a while 

There are always nights when sleep is difficult. If you’ve got a Fitbit or other fitness monitoring device, it’s probably telling you how good or not your sleep is. 

On night’s when you can’t sleep, research has shown that the best thing to do is stop trying. Stop thrashing around. Otherwise, you’re perpetuating negative associations of your bed with a bad night’s sleep, making insomnia worse. 

Get out of bed. Read, listen to music, chill out—any kind of low-level activity that will help you sleep, and try again when you’re more tired. 


Buy blackout curtains 

When there’s too much light in a bedroom, it starts messing with your melatonin and serotonin production. Making it more difficult to sleep and get a restful night’s sleep, impacting your performance and energy the next day. 

Blackout curtains are the best solution for that, along with turning lights off, closing the door, and if you must check your phone at night, ensuring it’s light-levels are as low as possible. 


Keep the temperature of your bedroom cool 

In most countries, going to sleep is harder when it’s warm, especially in Summer. It turns out the best temperature for sleep is around 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit (15-20 degrees Celsius). So, to keep cool in the warmer months, a fan in the bedroom will make it easier to get to sleep. 


Go to bed and wake up at the same time 

It isn’t always possible to go to sleep at the same time every day. Especially with busy lives and careers or when you’re traveling for a competitive game. One of the best ways to counteract this is to aim to wake up at the same time—and avoid hitting snooze when you do! 


Declutter your brain before sleep  

There are three ways to declutter your brain before sleep: 

  • Write down what you were grateful for during the day: a gratitude journal. Researchers have found that people who do this sleep better. 
  • Write down anything that’s stressing you out. Getting it out of your head, and onto paper will help you sleep (this could be your stress journal). 
  • Write down tomorrow’s goals. Rather than keeping these in your head, if they’re written down, then you aren’t carrying them into your attempt to sleep. 


We hope you’ve found this list of things you can do to improve sleep helpful!


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