The Importance of Sleep


The modern-day athlete knows that exercise and nutrition are crucial in reaching peak athletic performance. However, sleep is another factor in an athlete’s training that is often overlooked.

The way you feel during the days depends in part on what happens while you’re sleeping.

Sufficient sleep is vital to protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life and safety. Sleep is needed to allow your body to support healthy brain function and maintain physical health, and in children and teens, it helps support growth and development. Usain Bolt, Roger Rederer, Lebron James, all consider sleep to be an essential part of their training, and it’s becoming increasingly apparent that sleep reduction can affect your performance.


Mental Health

Sleep helps your brain to function properly; while you’re sleeping your brain forms new pathways to help you learn and remember information. If sleep is cut short, the body lacks the time it needs to repair memory and consolidate memory. Sleep deprivation also significantly alters your reaction times and ability to make decisions. For instance, studies have shown that sufficient sleep improves split-second decision-making ability by 4.3%. Slow reaction time is certainly a factor that increases in the likelihood of injuries in physical sports such as rugby or soccer. Studies have shown that even a surprisingly low level of fatigue can impair your reaction times as much, if not more, than being legally intoxicated! It’s unlikely you’d go for a night out before a big event, because you’d want to make sure you’re at 100% the next day. Well, it turns out getting a good night’s sleep is just as important.


Physical Health

Sleep plays a similarly important role in your physical health. Firstly, sleep affects the body’s immune system; the immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy – in order to successfully defend your body against infectious organisms or other invaders. Ongoing sleep deficiency can actually change the way the immune system responds, and can therefore increase our susceptibility to illness and diseases.

Secondly, sleep supports healthy growth and development. Deep sleep helps to trigger the release of hormones that promotes growth, helps to boost muscle mass and repairs cells and tissues from the abuse they have suffered in training! Therefore, if you are an athlete, putting your body through significantly more stress than the average Joe, then sleep is even more important for the sake of recovery.

Interestingly, sleep also dictates (in part at least), our attitude towards one of the things we love most; food.  Sleep helps to maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry and full. A lack of sleep leads to an increase in the hormone ghrelin (making you feel hungry), and a decrease in the levels of leptin (making you feel full). Thus, you feel hungrier when sleep-deprived than you would when you’re well-rested. This could be particularly important for athletes following strict diet plans.

Finally, ongoing sleep deficiency can have extremely serious consequences. Sleep deprivation is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and strokes.


So, make sure you’re giving your body the rest and recovery time that it deserves, and more importantly, that it needs, especially during times of intense training and in the lead up to upcoming events!