Athletes’ ability to reach maximum potential and achieve success is influenced by several factors, including physical condition, nutrition, and sleep. Sleep deprivation in particular, even when partial and spread over several nights, can affect several aspects of athletic performance.
Muscle power and anaerobic exercises are most susceptible to negative effects, while aerobic and strength training seem to be minimally impacted. The cognitive component is also affected by lack of sleep, with reduction in reaction time, in fine motor movement, memory, the ability to make decisions quickly, and mood.
The most interesting result concerns how insufficient sleep can damage sport-specific technical skills, such as free throw shooting in basketball.
Despite the importance of optimal sleep management to maximize performance, sleep disturbances are common in athletes both during regular training periods and as a response to workloads more intense than usual. Insomnia and reduced sleep duration are the most common causes.
To optimize performance, interventions aimed at improving sleep hygiene and extending the time spent in bed by each athlete have been developed. A systematic review conducted by Bonnar and colleagues found that the most effective interventions to improve performance are those based on increasing the daily sleep duration of athletes, including by resorting to afternoon naps.
Adequate sleep duration is thus a necessary prerequisite for the expression of athletes performance potential and should be taken in account by athletes and coaches when planning the training schedule.