How Poor Sleep Ruins Athletic Performance

How Poor Sleep Ruins Athletic Performance & Recovery

Athletes, whether professional or amateur, are always looking for ways to improve their performance. Many factors can contribute to an athlete’s success on and off the field. One of the most critical aspects that often gets overlooked is sleep.

For athletes, sleep is essential since it provides them with much-needed rest and recovery for demanding training sessions and competition.

Poor sleep quality can have a negative impact on athletic performance by decreasing cognitive function, reducing reaction time, impairing motor skills, and causing psychological stress.

In this article, we will explore how poor sleep affects athletic performance and provide strategies for improving sleep quality.

Importance of Sleep for AthletesPoor Sleep Ruins Athletic Performance

Sleep plays a crucial role in an athlete’s physical performance as it helps them recover from intense training sessions and competitions. During sleep, the body repairs damaged muscle tissue and replenishes energy stores used in strenuous physical activity.

Moreover, adequate sleep helps regulate vital hormones such as growth hormone and testosterone that are essential to building muscle mass, strength, and endurance.

It also reduces the levels of cortisol in the body – a stress hormone linked to inflammation and muscle breakdown.

Sleep also improves cognitive function by helping consolidate memories and allowing the brain to process information assimilated over time. Thus, good sleep quality leads to better decision-making, enhances motivation levels, and promotes creativity.


Impact of Poor Sleep on Athletic Performance

Now let’s explore how poor sleep quality affects athletic performance:

Decreased Cognitive Function

Lack of proper restful sleep often results in decreased cognitive function, where an athlete may find it challenging to concentrate, leading to mistakes or missed opportunities during competition.

It can manifest as slower reaction times contributing to poor accuracy in task execution, such as swing timing, catch reflexes, or precision passing, etc.

Reduced Reaction Time

Another primary impact of poor sleep is reduced reaction time. Reaction times are measures of how quickly an athlete can respond to stimuli, such as a ball being thrown toward them in Cricket, Football, or Baseball.

Studies have shown that those who experience sleep deprivation experience slower reflexes compared to their well-rested counterparts. In essence, the ability to react strategically is delayed leading to a significant negative impact on performance.

Impaired Motor SkillsHow Poor Sleep Ruins Athletic Performance

Sleep loss impairs an athlete’s motor skills, which include hand-eye coordination and complex tasks requiring agility and accuracy. This can cause slow movements and decrease overall performance.

A study of basketball players showed that those who had poor sleep quality demonstrated decreased accuracy in shooting, passing, and dribbling compared to those with better sleep quality.

Increased Risk of Injuries

Poor sleep quality can also increase the risk of injuries during training or competition. When athletes are fatigued due to lack of sleep, they may have reduced awareness of their surroundings, which increases the likelihood of accidents.

Furthermore, prolonged sleep deprivation weakens an athlete’s immune system leading to susceptibility to illnesses and injuries during high-intensity training or competitions.

Negative Effects on Physical Recovery

The body requires restful sleep for proper physical recovery after intense exercise or competition. Without enough restorative sleep, athletes can experience unrelenting muscle soreness that can last for days or even weeks, adversely impacting performance.

Disruption of Hormonal Balance

Sleep plays an essential role in regulating hormones such as growth hormone and testosterone crucial for building muscle mass, strength, and endurance.

The disruption in these hormones leads to suboptimal physiological responses impairing peak physical performance.

Moreover, interrupted sleep can increase cortisol levels in the body, contributing further to lower hormonal balance, thus potentially inducing fat tissue accumulation leading to a drop in overall energy levels.

Impacted Immune Function

Alongside disrupted hormonal balance, inadequate sleep leads to weaker immune function, negatively impacting health.

Athletes may be unable to train or even compete, reducing peak performance levels and leading to subsequent missed events and lessening career potential.

Lack of Energy and Endurance

Insufficient rest impacts overall energy levels resulting in fatigue and exhaustion following training sessions exerting a negative impact on giving optimal results leading to a reduced ability to maintain high-intensity output over time.

Psychological Effects of Poor Sleep

The psychological effects of poor sleep are perhaps the most insidious, leading to negative consequences that can potentially affect multiple aspects of an athlete’s life.

When athletes struggle with continuous sleep deficiency due to sleep disorders or other factors such as stress or anxiety, it can often manifest as emotional and behavioural problems, which negatively impact mood regulation.


One of the significant psychological effects associated with poor sleep is depression, which could seriously adversely affect athletic performance and overall quality of life.

Depression is a mood disorder that is marked by a persistent sense of sadness and loss of interest in hobbies that one typically enjoys.

Additionally, prolonged depression could cause low energy levels, making athletes feel physically weak, along with a lack of motivation while continuing their training regimens.


Anxiety is a mental health condition that is caused by excessive fear over potential risks or harm to oneself. Chronic insomnia or inadequate sleep quality associated with stress can significantly contribute to anxiety.

Anxiety has also been linked with feelings like restlessness, irritability, and difficulty concentrating – all detrimental to optimal performance on the field.


Stress is a significant concern when it comes to poor sleep and athletic performance. Excessive physical exertion, combined with insufficient sleep, leads to an increase in cortisol production, causing elevated levels of stress.

The effect can impact multiple organ systems, including cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and endocrine systems. As a result, output is reduced while recovery periods increase, leading to suboptimal athletic performance outcomes.

Therefore, the management of stress levels through optimised sleep quality is crucial for athletes looking to achieve their peak potential in sports activities.

Lessened Desire and Motivation

Chronic lack of sufficient restful sleep adversely affects an athlete’s desire and motivation, reducing focus & enthusiasm and impacting workouts, practice schedules, and contest performances.

Consequently, it hampers skill acquisition, retention, and progression toward desired athletic achievement goals.

Strategies for Improving Sleep Quality

Considering the severity of the impact on performance associated with poor sleep lack, it is essential that athletes optimise their sleep quality as part of their training regimen.

Some strategies to achieve this by optimising restful sleep include:

Establishing a Regular Sleep Schedule

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule aids in normalising the body’s internal clock, ensuring a suitable duration/depth of rest required for body recovery processes. It is recommended that athletes get 7-9 hours of continuous and uninterrupted sleep per night.

Creating a Sleep-Friendly Environment

It’s important to create an environment conducive to restful sleep. This includes keeping the bedroom quiet, dark, and cool with a comfortable mattress and pillows helping in relaxing, thereby enhancing sleep quality.

Practicing Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or yoga can help reduce stress levels aiding in maintaining optimal sleep quality.

Avoiding Stimulants and Electronics Before Bed

Avoiding caffeine or other stimulants, such as cigarettes, before bedtime assists in better-quality restive sleep.

Also, the blue light emitted from electronic devices suppresses melatonin production, disrupting sleep and leading to an impaired sleep pattern.



Thus evaluating how lack of adequate sleep affects athletes’ performance is paramount for optimising performance outcomes.

The effects of poor-quality sleep on performance drastically hamper multiple areas of physical and mental health, hampering peak results in competitive sports.

Athletes should consider prioritising appropriate restorative measures allowing adequate recovery to support overall physiological functions, ensuring maximisation of their physical potential both during training sessions and contests.

As illustrated above, some key measures that athletes can enhance their rest include establishing consistent sleeping schedules, creating comfortable sleeping environments, minimising stimulating factors, including restricting all electronic device exposure pre-bedtime.


Additionally, seeing a breathing or sleep coach or practicing relaxation techniques may also be beneficial, reducing stress levels and contributing to healthier sleep patterns yielding rejuvenating benefits and allowing athletes to remain sufficiently energised and perform at their peak ability. Speak to the team at QDST to learn more.


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Here at QLD Dental Sleep Therapy we are strongly dedicated to explore, translate and provide targeted therapies for sleep, TMJ and bruxism disorders.