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The Significance of Sleep: How Fatigue Hampers Athletic Performance

The Significance of Sleep: How Fatigue Hampers Athletic Performance

How many times as a child did your parents enforce a bedtime with the message “you won’t do well if you don’t get enough sleep”? Yeah, exactly it was more than the odd occasion. Pretty much all of us have been informed of the importance of sleep at one time or another, and exactly how a lack of sleep equals nothing more than exhaustion the next day.

As it turns out, your parents were pretty well informed. Not only is sleep important, but fatigue can actually have a detrimental effect on performance, particularly in the world of sport.

If you’re not quite convinced, then thankfully I’ve done all of the hard work for you and compiled a guide to how and why sleep is the best way to get ahead.

The Science of Sleep

For athletes, a significant source of energy comes from their ability to store and metabolise glucose, as it leads to an enhanced and effective performance on the field.

A study by Eve Van Cauter of the University of Chicago saw eleven men and women aged 18 – 27 have their sleeping patterns reduced to only four hours a night. This showed that not only do their bodies fail to metabolise glucose effectively, but that their levels of cortisol (otherwise known as the stress hormone) were significantly higher.

It’s theorised that fatigued athletes who are unable to metabolise glucose effectively will be limited to no more than 90 minutes of action before exhausting their energy resources. This would be particularly detrimental to endurance athletes, such as long distance runners and swimmers.

Fatigue Impacts Reaction Times

For martial artists, quick reaction times are the foundations of their sport. Not only must they be able to defend themselves at a millisecond’s notice, but also attack just as quickly.

According to Fatigue Science, a single sleepless night can reduce reaction times by as much as 300%, with recovery lasting up to several days.

I spoke to AnnMaria De Mars, who was the first American to win a gold medal at the World Judo Championships. AnnMaria, who is the mother of the Olympic medalist and UFC fighter Ronda Rousey, told me how important sleep was to her training regime:


"I made a point of never skrimping on sleep, I’d even go as far to say because I had a rigid diet, in order to remain in my lightweight category, I didn’t always get to eat what I wanted. So not only was sleep important for my metabolism, but it was one luxury I never gave up”.

It’s true that athletes often have to adhere to strict dietary regimens in order to remain in their desired competitive weight class. In this case, sleep is not only recommend but necessary for success within the sport as strict diets may only provide athletes with limited energy resources.

Fatigue Increases the Risk of Injury

An athlete’s ability (or lack of) to metabolise glucose may also have an adverse effect on their probability to prevent and recover from injury.

As muscles struggle to adapt and respond to weight training, many athletes make the mistake of overtraining which in turn leads to injury. A study by the University of California found that injury rates increased in athletes who only received between 4 – 6 hours of sleep the night before a competition.

Sleep Aids Accuracy, Pace and Performance

Cheri Mah, a researcher for Stanford University, conducted a study in which the men’s university basketball team obtained a minimum of ten hours of sleep a night for a period of seven weeks.

During the study performance factors were routinely measured and, by the end of the seven-week trial, the team’s free throw accuracy had improved by 9%. Their 3 point basket percentage had also increased by 9.2%.

Alongside this, the players’ frontal lobe was increasingly engaged. This led to an enhancement in their decision making and increased the number of creative strategies.

The study conducted that consistent rest was invaluable to athletes looking to improve their overall performance.

While the modern world of sport is filled with experts on injury and recovery who encourage all forms of increasingly drastic measures to prevent any long term damage, it appears that sleep is the most valuable tool of all when it comes to protecting and preserving the human body.

If you're a sports fanatic but find yourself losing points due to a lack of sleep, it may be time to consider a new mattress as the answer to your sleep deprivation. Like your parents said, sleep is just as important to performance as all that hard work and exercise.

As annoying as it is, turns out they do know best.

Are You Getting the Sleep You Need?

If you're an athlete, or just your average Joe like me, and find yourself consistently struggling to get the sleep you need, then it may be time to switch up your mattress.

A poor quality mattress can have a bigger long term effect than we like to think, and it can lead to back pain, hip pain and a more than anything, low quality sleep.

Sound familiar? Why not have a quick browse of our mattress options to see if we can help sort that out.

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Fancy learning more about the significance of sleep, or a few tricks of the trade on getting the perfect rest? Take a look at a few of our blogs below.

The Sleep Secrets of Your Favourite Sports Stars

Top Tips for a Healthy Night’s Sleep