The football season has started! Top Tips for sports people & how sleep affects performance.

It's not just the Lionesses that need their sleep before a big game. For many an athlete, sleep is as important a part of their recovery process as a good diet, the right sort of training plus massage and physiotherapy.

Half a century ago, talk of the need for ‘regeneration’ would have set most of us thinking about Star Trek! However, nowadays it’s a common topic for any serious athlete who will place quality sleep at the right time at the heart of an effective training strategy. Muscle, tissue and dead cells are all renewed and replaced during sleep. In fact, based on this, there seems to be some irrefutable logic to say that the harder you train, the more sleep you will need.

Roger Federer is an example of a sporting legend who is often quoted as greatly valuing his sleep. In fact, Federer allegedly rented two houses next door to each other before and during Wimbledon – one for him and the team, the other for his family.

In fact, there are valuable lessons from research into the value of sleep for sports people that can help us whether we enjoy a kickabout at the weekend or not. Here are five sporting benefits to a good night’s shut-eye!

  1. Improved reaction time: It is well documented that going for 20 hours without sleep is the equivalent of being drunk when it comes to ‘cognitive performance’ – in other words another way of describing mental processes. Research shows that properly rested people, who are typically getting an average of 7.5 hours of sleep over a 24-hour period can have 2–3 times better reaction times than those who are sleep deprived. A vital advantage in sports, and a useful one in the daily lives of those of us who drive, debate or do anything that needs a quick response.
  2. Reduced injury rates and improvement in overall health: Multiple studies point to this, including one from the University of California showing that injury rates in young athletes climb as soon as they sleep less than six hours a night. In other research, it was found that the amount of sleep a high school athlete had was the strongest predictor of injuries, more accurate than the number of hours of practice or indeed any other parameter, including how they trained – remarkable!This is because fatigue affects your reaction time and can, in turn, increase the likelihood of injuries. In addition, poor sleep harms our immune system, making us more susceptible to illness. And, finally, shorter overall sleep periods fail to provide the body with time to regenerate cells, muscle and tissue. Merely a more extreme example of something that is true for us all.
  3. Longer playing careers: If the Roger Federer example isn’t enough to convince you, some research into Major League Baseball might. The latter suggests an almost linear correlation between plenty of sleep to performance and career length. Now, that’s worth a lot to most people, especially when their cognitive or physical skills are vital in performing a role. And as a cricket fan, it makes me curious to know more about Jimmy Anderson’s sleep habits!
  4. Better accuracy and faster sprint times: This has been observed in basketball, swimming and tennis, among other sports. And surely, it’s no coincidence that cheetahs – among the fastest animals on the planet travelling from zero to 60 mph in three seconds – routinely sleep up to 18 hours per day.
  5. Fewer mental errors: Vital for sportsmen and women, plus, at the very least, very helpful to the rest of us in multiple ways. So, we can see why sleep and its benefits have become a competitive edge in sports. As one professional triathlete, Jarrod Shoemaker, puts it, “Sleep is half my training.

So, good luck to the Lionesses this weekend. And let’s hope that all that last-minute prep is paired with some excellent sleep!

Giles Watkins, Positive Sleep