How Sleep Can Improve Performance

Why You Need to Make Sleep A Priority 

In our society, the ability to “function” off of minimal sleep has almost become a badge of honour. We all know that person that can shut down for 3-4 hours of sleep and get through the next day with seemingly no ill effects. There has been a lot of recent attention paid to how sleep can affect our health. As studies are gaining mainstream attention we are realizing how quality sleep can be used to improve many aspects of our lives. The opposite is true as a lack in amount of sleep has been strongly linked to All Cause Mortality, which basically means the less you sleep the greater the risk of an early death. 

The active population are no exception to this and some of the work being done is analyzing how the amount we sleep can enhance, or be detrimental, to our performance. Matthew Walker, sleep scientist, described sleep as being the most powerful legal PED. Whether you engage in regular physical activity or rigorous training, sleep should be made a high priority. 

How Can Better Sleep Help Me 

  • Increased Recovery Hormones: Testosterone has many benefits including building muscle mass, improving mental function and aiding in muscle recovery. There is data showing that individuals not getting enough sleep have testosterone levels equivalent to someone 10 years older!! Another important hormone essential to muscle repair and recovery is growth hormone (GH). As we enter non-REM deep sleep our body upticks the release of GH. When we are not getting the quality, deep sleep we our bodies do not benefit from increased GH. The active population is constantly seeking out supplements, diets and training techniques to help boost these beneficial hormones yet we overlook the lowest hanging fruit. Sleep is effective, free and available to us all so before we chase down the latest fads claiming to boost hormone levels we should work on making ample, quality sleep a priority. 
  • Reduced Injury Risk: A study done on university athletes compared number of hours of sleep to injury rate and the results were impressive yet not surprising: less amount of sleep correlated with more injuries. Some ideas as to why include longer muscle recovery time and a failure of stability muscles that play an important role in quality of movements. There is still more research needed to figure out the causes but based on what we currently know getting less than 8hrs of sleep per night significantly increases the risk of injury in the active population. 
  • Improved Performance: Stanford University released data after increasing the amount of sleep from in athletes from 8hrs to 10hrs per night over a 5-week period and documenting changes in performance. The results were very impressive; here are a few notables: 
  • Speed:  Football players improved their 40 yard dash time by 0.1s 
  • Reaction Time:  Swimmers were 0.15s quicker off the blocks 
  • Accuracy:  Basketball players improved their 3-point shot average from 10.2/15 to 11.6/15 

To demonstrate the opposite effect they deprived cyclists of sleep for 3 consecutive nights and found that their time to exhaustion decreased by 37 seconds!! 

Take Action to Improve Your Sleep 

The data is pretty loud and clear at this point: ample quality sleep has significant benefits for our health and performance. Unfortunately, sometimes getting enough quality sleep is easier said than done. Life is busy, stress is real and sometimes falling, and staying, asleep just isn’t working. Much like training programs and nutritional strategies, sleep is something that needs planning and preparation to get the most out of it. Here are some tips to start implementing into your routine: 

  • Regularity: When it comes to sleep consistency is very important. Our bodies thrive on the routine of going to bed, and waking up, at the same times. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule will help you fall asleep and improve overall quality of sleep. 
  • Keep it cool: As we sleep our core body temperature naturally drops 1-2 degrees Celsius. Creating a sleep environment that is below room temperature and/or using a device such as a  ChiliPad will assist this natural drop in temperature to help improve sleep. 
  • Keep it dark: Light pollution has a negative impact on the release of melatonin and ultimately impacts sleep. Making sure our sleep environment is completely dark will help prevent any disruptions. This means no screens, no lights from charging devices and no street lights entering the bedroom through windows. 
  • Journal: Trying to sleep while focusing on tomorrow’s problems is a recipe for a restless night. Try spending a few minutes before bed planning tomorrow’s to-do lists or writing down thoughts or ideas that are currently taking up space in your head. Knowing you are prepared for tomorrow can result in a better sleep tonight. 
  • Breathing exercises: Spending a few minutes focusing on our breathing can stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system which is beneficial for rest and recovery. Check out this short video for exercises to help improve your breathing mechanics. 


Sleep better to improve your health, improve your performance and live longer! Give these a try and let us know how you do.