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8 scientifically proven tips for better sleep in athletes (and non-athletes)

Sleep is crucial for any human being but especially for athletes, no doubt about that. It is the main recovery method for mind and body, although not many young athletes realise that. Only proper recovery enables an athlete to give their best every day in training and life.

Additionally, chronic inadequate sleep has been also linked to an increase in sports injuries in adolescent athletes (Milewski, 2014) and a plethora of other health issues (Zhu, 2019). There are a few simple (but not easy) things every athlete could do to optimize their sleep.

1.    Keep a regular sleep schedule

Like with any habit, it is easier to fall asleep if you do it consistently at the same time every day. If you can, make your bedtime the same every night, including on weekends. Your brain starts to expect that you will go to bed soon and prepares for it making it easier to fall asleep when the time comes.

If for some reason your bedtime cannot be consistent, try to set up a routine that will be consistent. Routine may include deeming the lights, reading a book, taking a bath, listening to relaxing music, whatever makes you relaxed, calmed and ready to fall asleep.

Sleep tip #1: Keep a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends.

2.    Manage bright light exposure

Bright light is a powerful stimulant, especially if it is sunlight. That is why after a long and gloomy winter we feel so energised when the spring with bright mornings finally comes. If you can, expose yourself to sunshine in the morning by for example going for a quick walk. Dog owners and bike commuters have a huge advantage here, as they have no other choice, but go outside in the morning.

In the evening, on the other hand, try to avoid bright lights. This includes screens. Exposure to the artificial light tricks your brain that it is still day. This can be a reason why you don’t feel tired at night even when you have been working in front of your computer for hours.

Sleep tip #2: Bright light exposure: take plenty in the morning, limit at night.

3.    Make your bedroom perfect

Your bedroom should be your oasis. Keeping your bedroom cool, dark and comfortable will help you not only fall asleep easily but also sleep for longer.

Core body temperature needs to drop a little before we can fall asleep. Bedroom being hot may prevent this drop, and therefore hider your ability to fall asleep.

The dark bedroom will let your brain know that it is night-time and will allow you to fall asleep easier. Try to reduce all the random little light sources such as clocks, switch ons and electronic displays. Also, as bright light getting into your bedroom in the morning will wake you up earlier, dark curtains may be a good investment.

Keeping your bedroom comfortable doesn’t need too much explanation. A good mattress, fitted pillow, and duvet of the right thickness for your liking and season will boost your comfort. Having a comfortable environment will allow you to relax easier and have a good night’s rest.

Sleep tip #3: Make your bedroom cool, dark and comfortable.

4.    Avoid stimulants

Stimulants such as coffee, energy drinks, tea and some types of soda can reduce your ability to fall and maintain sleep. It is recommended to avoid the consumption of these drinks at least six hours before bedtime.

Additionally, nicotine should be avoided as it is also a stimulant. Although alcohol may allow falling asleep more easily, it negatively affects the quality of sleep and should be avoided.

Sleep tip #4: Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine, especially in the evening.

5.    Manage your food and drink intake

Try to avoid eating and drinking a lot soon before going to bed. Too much food may disturb your sleep by causing reflux and drinking too much may force you to go to the bathroom.

Sleep tip #5: No excessive food and drink before bedtime.

6.    Don’t look at the clock

When you wake up at night, don’t look at the clock. Obsessive looking at the clock may increase brain activity and impair your ability to fall straight back to sleep. You don’t want to do that.

Sleep tip #6: Don’t look at the clock when you wake up.

7.    Nap

If you are struggling with getting enough sleep during the night, try having some naps during the day. This strategy may help you to recover during busy times like traveling, competition or exams.

The only exception would be if you struggle to fall asleep at night. Then, it may be beneficial to cut down on naps to make you tired and more ready for your bedtime.

Sleep tip #7: Naps are gas!

8.    Keep bed for sleep (and sex) only

Restricting being in bed to only sleep time will allow your brain to associate the two together.

If you have trouble falling asleep and usually lay in bed awake for a long time, you may want to try to get up, have a sip of water or a walk around the room. Then you may try again falling asleep. With time, this may teach your brain that when you lay down in bed, it is sleeping time (not laying with eyes-right-open time).

Sleep tip #8: Keep beds for sleep (and sex) only.

There you are, eight tips on how to improve your training, performance, and health. If you can, implement all of them. When your sleep gets better, your sports performance, recovery, and mood should improve too. Let’s don’t forget a bonus related to a lowered risk of sustaining an injury and developing other metabolic complications.

Good luck and good night!


Academic readings

  1. Kroshus, E., Wagner, J., Wyrick, D., Athey, A., Bell, L., Benjamin, H. J., … & Watson, N. F. (2019). Wake up call for collegiate athlete sleep: narrative review and consensus recommendations from the NCAA Interassociation Task Force on Sleep and Wellness. British journal of sports medicine, 53(12), 731-736.