10 Tips to Help Athletes Sleep Better

Most athletes recognize that rest and recovery is critical for success. Training programs and schedules will automatically have rest days build into them, and athletes often just know when they need to take a few easy days to recover. However, many of those same athletes fail to recognize that quality sleep is just as big a part of the recovery process as taking some easy training days.

Numerous studies have shown that even a small amount of sleep deprivation can dramatically decrease athletic performance.

The reasons for this are not entirely clear; however, research points to the role of glucose metabolism and cortisol (a stress hormone) production as a major factor.

Results of studies on sleep deprivation found that sleep-deprived athletes don't metabolize glucose very efficiently, and have higher levels of cortisol, which has been linked to memory impairment, age-related insulin resistance, and impaired recovery. Another potential problem of poor sleep is lowered levels of the hormone leptin, which play a role in regulating hunger as well as storing body fat.

Make the most of your nightly sleep ritual by following these tried and true expert recommendations to maximize your sleep quality.


Practice Visualization or Relaxation Exercises

High angle view of man wearing sleep mask while sleeping on bed at home
Cavan Images / Getty Images

Taking a few minutes to do a relaxation or breathing exercise or doing visualization may help you fall asleep faster. Using a short breathing exercise before bed can help you calm your heart rate, blood pressure, stress levels, and more. It can also help you fall asleep more quickly. Here is a simple method to use when you get into bed.

  1. Inhale through your nose for a count of six 
  2. Hold the inhalation for a count of three
  3. Exhale through your nose for a count of six
  4. Hold the exhale for three counts
  5. Repeat this series four more times

Unplug Devices

It's a good idea to turn off all electronics about an hour (or more) before bed. Getting rid of stimulation – including the television, loud music, commercials, computer screens, and other distractions – helps your mind relax.

Electronics emit artificial light that tricks your body into thinking it's daylight and stops the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

Give your body at least an hour to get primed for sleep without all the bright blue screens and electronic distractions.


Keep It Dark

Using light-tight blinds, shades, and window coverings help set the right environment for sleep. Ambient light can be a distraction, and a glowing or flashing clock or other light from electronics can also interfere with a solid night's sleep.


Keep It Cool

Lowering the thermostat in your bedroom to 65 to 68 degrees can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.

You may have to experiment with the temperature or amount of covers you use, but keeping it on the cool side is better for sleeping than being too hot


Limit Afternoon Caffeine

Cutting down on caffeine can improve not only your quality of sleep but can help you fall asleep faster. For most people, drinking highly caffeinated drinks in the late afternoon or evening will impair sleep.

Caffeine consumption raises the levels of hormones called catecholamines.

These hormones act as central nervous system stimulants that increase endurance, heart rate, and blood vessel constriction. This is one reason athletes often consume caffeine prior to training or competition.

Yes, there are those who fall right asleep after a cup of coffee, but everyone is different, so it's good to learn how your body reacts to caffeine by testing it out.


Get Daily Sunshine and Fresh Air

It's not always easy to get sunshine, but spending time outdoors can help improve sleep. Being outdoors in daylight, even if it's overcast or cloudy, is one helpful way to regulate daily sleep patterns.

Athletes should aim to get outside in natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes each day. If possible, wake up with the sun or use very bright lights in the morning.

Sleep experts recommend that if you have problems falling asleep, you should get an hour of exposure to morning sunlight and turn down the lights before bedtime.


Maintain a Regular Sleep Schedule

Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day is ideal for athletes. A regular schedule makes your training routine more consistent and regular. If you sleep and wake at the same time, your body can adapt to a regular training and nutrition plan as well.

Research shows that a regular sleep habit that includes a 10 p.m. bedtime and 6 a.m. wake up time seems to be the optimal schedule for both physical and psychological recovery, as well as wakefulness during the day.


Time Your Workouts

Doing your workouts in the morning may help you sleep better at night. And even on your rest days, getting outdoors for an easy walk or doing some stretching or yoga or using a foam roller can help you fall asleep faster at night.

While there isn't necessarily one best time to exercise, some people report that exercising before bed makes them too energized and alert, so the experts recommend allowing about 6 hours of time between your exercise session and your bedtime.


Cut Down on Alcohol

Alcohol is linked with a decrease in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep cycles, as well as a delayed sleep onset. Many people recognize that alcohol often causes shallow sleep, frequent waking, tossing, and turning.

People who have more than a glass or two of alcohol before bed report that they just don't feel like they've had a deep, quality night's rest. If you don't get enough REM sleep, you may find yourself irritable and exhausted the next day.


Keep It Quiet

Nothing can interrupt sleep or reduce the quality of sleep more than a noisy environment. If you are trying to sleep in a noisy location – near traffic, airports, trains, or simply have noisy neighbors – invest in some earplugs to create your own silence.

If you don't like earplugs, a white noise machine, or a fan with a constant hum may do the trick. 

Was this page helpful?