Sleep Deprivation and Athletes

Sleep Deprivation and Athletes

By Katherine MacPherson BS, ACSM HFS

Hoping to increase your athletic performance, or perhaps improve your weight lifting routine? When it comes to athletes, they need their sleep. It is well established that a lack of sleep can impair one’s mental status, but did you know that there is an even greater amount of impairment happening physiologically? Our body’s response to sleep deprivation can have a larger reaction than you think.


Every age comes with a different average amount of sleep needed each night. In 1998, Wolfson and Carskadon found that the average teen needs a considerably greater amount of sleep than younger children and adults. The typical active teen needs about 9.2 hours of sleep each night (Carpenter, 2001). 9.2 hours of sleep seems like a lot but this amount of sleep will encourage a healthy state of homeostasis.

When we hear the words “sleep deprivation,” we tend to think of a long term cycle of poor sleeping habits. However, it is found that just one night of disturbed sleep can negatively alter ones’ performance. A study by The France School of Sports Science and Liverpool John Moores University took eleven healthy males and underwent testing intervals. They evaluated subjects after one night of normal sleep and after one night of disrupted sleep. The results indicted a negative impact on the subject’s mood state (mood state refers to one’s cognitive thoughts or feelings during a particular event) on exercise after their sleep disrupted night. Though the results showed no effect on muscle strength, perceived exertions, and heart rate while exercising, their mood state was significantly altered negatively(Meney et al., 1998). Another study on acute sleep deprivation and exercise found that after 30 hours of continuous poor sleep, the subject’s resting reaction time was increaseed, they fatigued faster, and their mood states where negatively changed (Scott et al. 2004). A study that included a trial of a 64 hour sleep deprivation found that muscular performance had decreased. One notable decrease was the subject’s ability to reach their previous vertical jumps heights (Takeuchi et al. 2007).
The long term effect from sleep deprivation has a harsher reaction on individuals. As described earlier, we learn what kind of an impact just 30 hours of sleep deprivation can be. In a study were 12 subject were examined during an 8 week trial, it indicated that a longer duration of disrupted sleep can be far worse than an acute experience. The results revealed a reduction in mood and performance (Angus et al. 1985). Physiologically our bodies rely vastly on the recovery cycle, which includes sleep. Today, poor sleeping habits are now being linked to diabetes and obesity. A conflicted sleep pattern tampers with normal functions of the metabolic system. A 2007 clinical review studied the relationship between three pathways that were all effected after prolong sleep deprivation. The pathways included changes in glucose metabolism, increased appetite, and decreased energy expenditure (Knutson et al., 2007).

Research and perhaps personal experience can in fact show you that seeking a regular and adequate amount of sleep at night will improve and maintain a healthy state of mental and physical well-being. For those who have trouble finding a regular sleep pattern there are great regimens to follow to help you do so. According to Livestrong.com, exercising for at least 30 minutes most days of the week will encourage better sleep (Livestrong.com, 2011). Regular exercise will also decrease stress levels, which is another barrier that affects sleep. For many individuals who struggle with regular exercise, working with a personal trainer will create a stronger foundation for fitness and motivation. Exercise is linked to better sleep, so for any athletes and the general population the matter is just getting to bed at a reasonable hour. Planning ahead and developing an after school/practice pattern are major tools. The effects of sleep deprivation can and should be avoided at all costs to ensure safe and effective athletic performance and physical fitness.

Angus, R., Heslegrave, R., & Myles, S. (1985). Effects of prolonged sleep deprivation, with and without chronic physical exercise, on mood and perforance. Psychophysiology, 276-282. Retrieved from onlinelibrary.wiley.com
Carpenter, S. (2001). Sleep deprivation may be undermining teen health. American Psychological Association, 42. Retrieved from www.apa.org
Knutson, K., Spiegel, K., Penev, P., & Cauter, E. (2007). The metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 163-178. Retrieved from www.sciencedirect.com
10 Steps To Better Sleep, 2011. Livestrong.com
Meney, I., Waterhouse, J., Atkinson, G., Reilly, T., & Davenne, D. (1998). The effects of one night’s sleep deprivation on teperature, mood, and physical performance. Chronobiology Internation, 349-363. Retrieved from informahealthcare.com
Scott, J., McNaughton, L., & Polman, R. (2004). Effects of sleep deprivation and exercise on cognitive, motor performance and mood. Physiology & Behavior, 396-408. Retrieved from www.sciencedirect.com
Takeuchi, L., Davis, G., Plyley, M., Goode, R., & Shephard, R. (2007). Sleep deprivation, chronic exercise and muscular performance. Ergonomics, 1985. Retrieved from www.tandfonline.com