Now viewing the PARENTS PORTAL.

Switch Portals:

Lights out for success – How sleep elevates athletic performance

Posted on February 27th, 2024

Elite athletes train relentlessly. They push their bodies to the limit and strive for perfection in their chosen sports. To maintain peak performance, athletes invest in rigorous training regimens, specialized diets, and cutting-edge recovery techniques. 

However, there is one often overlooked factor that plays a crucial role in athletes’ success. That factor is sleep. In the world of elite sports, sleep is the secret weapon that separates the good from the great.

The science of sleep

Sleep is a complex physiological process that includes several stages. These stages include rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep. During each sleep stage, the body undergoes various important functions, such as…

  • Tissue repair
  • Muscle growth
  • Memory consolidation

A key factor in determining sleep quality is the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the body’s natural, internal biological clock. It regulates various physiological and behavioral processes, including the sleep-wake cycle, which dictates when you feel alert and awake (during the day) and when you feel tired and sleepy (at night). Exposure to sunlight and meal timing can impact the circadian rhythm, which is important for athletes looking to optimize their sleep patterns.

Sleep’s impact on athletic performance 

Physical recovery: During sleep, the body undergoes a process of repairing and regenerating tissues. Adequate rest helps heal the micro-injuries that occur during intense training, reducing the risk of overuse injuries. Furthermore, human growth hormone (HGH), which aids in muscle recovery and growth, is primarily released during deep sleep.

Cognitive function: Athletes need sharp mental faculties to make split-second decisions during competition. Sleep deprivation impairs cognitive functions, like…

  • Reaction time
  • Decision-making
  • Concentration

A well-rested athlete is more likely to execute plays flawlessly and make strategic choices.

Immune function: Intense training and competition can stress the immune system. Sleep is when the immune system strengthens and produces immune cells and antibodies. Athletes who skimp on sleep are more susceptible to illness, which can disrupt their training schedules.

Hormone regulation: Hormones like cortisol and testosterone are important factors in an athlete’s performance. Sleep helps balance these hormones, ensuring optimal energy levels and muscle recovery. Inadequate sleep can lead to hormonal imbalances, which can negatively affect an athlete’s physique and performance.

Enhanced endurance and stamina: A well-rested athlete has better endurance and stamina. Sleep replenishes glycogen stores in muscles and improves energy usage, both of which are important for sustained physical effort.

How the Golden State Warriors basketball team prioritizes sleep 

Some athletes and teams, like Coach Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors, already recognize the importance of sleep to maximize players’ performance. In 2015, Kerr enlisted the help of UCSF Sleep Researcher Cheri Mah to improve the Warriors’ sleep habits so they could perform at a higher level.

Mah’s research showed that quality sleep could enhance shooting percentages and overall athletic performance. She advised the players to keep pre-game naps short (under 30 minutes). That way, they’d stay in lighter sleep stages to get an energy and performance boost. She said taking long pre-game naps (over an hour) was a mistake many players made.

Mah also suggested that the players develop a sleep routine by reading before bed, limiting screen time, and ensuring they get 7-9 hours of sleep for optimal performance. Some of the Warriors found changing their routines to be challenging. However, many players have followed Mah’s advice and embraced the benefits of improved sleep.

Practical tips for athletes 

Maintain a consistent schedule: Athletes should establish a consistent sleep schedule to align with their circadian rhythms. Establishing a consistent bedtime and wake-up schedule can help regulate the body’s internal clock.

Create an ideal sleep environment: Create an optimal sleep environment that’s cool, dark, and quiet. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillow to enhance sleep quality.

Nap strategically: Per Mah’s advice, short power naps (20-30 minutes) can help athletes recharge without interfering with nighttime sleep.

Limit screen time: Reduce exposure to screens before bedtime. This includes the use of phones, tablets, laptops, and televisions. The blue light emitted by such devices disrupts the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, making it more difficult to fall asleep. 

Athletes need to understand that sleep is a non-negotiable component of their training regimen. They should focus not only on the amount of time spent in bed but also on their sleep quality. This focus helps maximize their recovery time, cognitive function, and physical performance.

By recognizing sleep as their secret weapon, athletes gain a competitive edge that can make all the difference in their pursuit of greatness. So, the next time you watch a world-class athlete, remember that behind their success lies the power of a good night’s rest.

Dr. Meghna Dassani has practiced dentistry for over two decades and is passionate about the role dentists play in whole-body health. You can learn more at her website:

Airway Is Life:

The Book Your Family Needs to Read Today


Healthy Sleep Revolution Podcast Cover

Healthy Sleep Revolution Podcast

Snoring? Tired all day? Trouble focusing?
So many think these symptoms are common in kids and adults when tired. Join us as we debunk some of these common myths and put the spotlight on Sleep Apnea. Discover what constitutes healthy sleep and how we can help ourselves and our kids get the best sleep ever.


Go to the Top of the Page