The Importance of Sleep for Performance

Go to bed! It’s seriously that easy if you’re looking to improve your performance and body composition. The problem is, while this is an easy implementation with a great return on investment most of us are still lucky to get a solid 8 hours of sleep per night. If you’re like most of my athletes you feel like you either can’t sleep more than you currently do, or feel that the amount you are currently sleeping is enough. Maybe you don’t understand what sleep can do for your athletic performance. If you’re not sleeping enough or are curious as to what you can do to be a better athlete, keep reading to find out how simply being asleep may be the biggest limiting factor in your performance.

Studies suggest that when you miss even a little sleep your cortisol is increased the following day. While it’s perfectly natural for the body to increase cortisol during moments such as exercise, regularly elevated levels of cortisol will lead to lowered testosterone levels. Lowered testosterone can result in a decrease in energy and strength levels as well as libido. That means, less time spent in the bed at night could mean less time having fun in it.

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Athletes need carbs. The problem is, a study suggests that a night of poor sleep can cause greater insulin resistance than the results of 6 months following a high fat diet. For an athlete insulin resistance is devastating for both body composition and performance. Not only can insulin resistance cause the athlete to store more visceral fat, but it prevents the athlete from utilizing the ideal diet for performance. For an resistant individual our recommendation is going to be a diet lower on the carbohydrate side. For an athlete, we want you eating plenty of carbohydrates so that you can fuel your performance in practice and on game day.

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Lack of sleep can also greatly reduce reaction time and a single night of missed sleep can slow things down by more than 300%!. In fact, being awake for 22 hours straight can slow your reaction time more than 4 drinks can. Any athlete can imagine the detriment this decreased reaction time can have on your sport. Think of a punch flying at your face with deadly intentions and the inability to react quickly enough to avoid it. It’s nighty night against your own will.

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A slower reaction time from lack of sleep can result in injury. In fact, it's shown that sleep is the strongest predictor of injuries in high school athletes. Also, lack of sleep cuts down on the body’s most opportune time to recover and repair from workouts and practices. An athlete that isn’t recovered from the previous training session is at risk of failing in the next.

Lack of sleep can make you weaker. One study showed a decrease in both maximal and sub-maximal performances on the bench press, deadlift, and leg press. It was also noted that a lack of sleep caused athletes to be moodier, short tempered, and unhappy. Motivation is critical to a strong training session and a good mental state is necessary for performance.

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It’s not enough to know you need sleep, but you also need to know how. First off, you need to be off all electronics well before bedtime. Because light suppresses your natural melatonin production, you need to be in a completely pitch black room. Black out your curtains, cover all electronic light, and make sure no light is creeping in. I covered coffee in a previous article and how it could affect your sleep. Check it out and make sure you know your own tolerance levels. You may need supplement help and our friend Dr. Kirk Parsley has the absolute best product on the market in his Sleep Remedy. Lastly, have a bedtime and stick to it. Prepare for bed well before time to sleep and get in bed within plenty of time to fall asleep and allow yourself a minimum of 8 hours.

Sleeping is a simple and highly effective way to improve your performance. Missing out on quality sleep can lower your testosterone and sex drive, increase insulin resistance and risk of injury, and limit your strength. If you want to make a small change that will pay huge dividends on the field and in the weight room, take control of your sleep and watch your performance multiply! 

Tyler Minton

Nutrition Coach at Power Athlete
Professional mixed martial artist, gym owner and Power Athlete Nutrition Coach. An avid follower of CrossFit Football since its inception, Tyler has implemented Power Athlete methodology with thousands of athletes in his own gym and abroad. A student of Robb Wolf's for 7 years, Tyler uses the principles of ancestral health to help athletes empower their performance. One of the worlds leading weight cut experts, Tyler works with some of the UFC's top athletes, preparing them for peak performance when they step into the cage. Tyler utilizes his own personal and coaching experience, combined with the very best in nutritional education to help athletes fuel the fire!

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