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Get fit - How sleep improves performance

Fitter getting asleep is the dream of many sports-lazy athletes. In fact, sleep does not make you fitter. However, if you do not sleep well enough, your physical performance also suffers. Various studies have shown that.

Our body needs enough sleep to recover from the hardships of the day. This not only applies to working people, but above all to athletes. Finally, the body is particularly stressed by the training. If you do not begrudge your body the necessary rest, you do not have to be surprised, even if the athletic performance decreases.

Much helps a lot

In fact, the amount of sleep has a huge impact on our performance, as Cherry D. Mah of the University of Stanford, California, said in an investigation. For a long time, Mah has been watching the influence of sleep on the athletic performance of university athletes. It was based on the simple assumption that more sleep directly improves the athletic performance of all athletes, no matter what sport they exercise. During her work, Mah published several studies.

Fit tennis players

In 2009, Mah published an investigation with female tennis players from Stanford University. These should try to sleep for 10 hours every night for 5 weeks. At the end of the study period, Mah found that the players who had managed to increase their sleep rate could run faster and hit the ball more accurately than they did when they were in their normal sleep patterns.

Swimming and basketball

Already in 2008 and 2007, the sleep researcher published two further studies with swimmers and male basketball players of the university. With these athletes, Mah found that a little more sleep over several weeks improves athletes' performance, mood, and responsiveness. So the basketball players ran much faster and hit the basket better when they slept around 10 hours a day. In this respect one can assume that sleep is a decisive factor for athletic success and fitness.

Off to bed

The findings are particularly important for professionals and ambitious athletes, who usually have a full calendar and often get too little sleep due to travel. These athletes rarely get enough sleep and slip into a sleep guilt that has a significant negative impact on performance. But cognitive ability, mood and reaction time also suffer from sleep deficit, as Mah reports. Many of these problems could be prevented with a little more sleep. Accordingly, athletes should consider resting time as well as a workout or a healthy diet and take it just as seriously.

Why sleep is so important

The body needs time to regenerate. It still raises the question of why "real sleep" brings more here than just lying on the couch. The sleep researchers assume that the organism releases more growth hormones during the sleep phase. These stimulate muscle growth and repair minor damage in the muscles. In addition, the bone structure and the fat burning are stimulated. Previous research has already shown that sleep deprivation inhibits the secretion of growth hormone. At the same time, the body needs sleep in order to better internalize newly learned movements.

How much sleep is healthy?

That sleep is very important for athletes, should be clear to most. Less clear, however, is how much sleep an athlete needs. After all, one person sleeps more, the other less. Therefore, recommendations such as 7-9 hours of sleep should always be used with caution, although this is the general recommendation for adults (9-10 hours for adolescents). Mah recommends, however, if you fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed and wake up without an alarm, you sleep enough. On the other hand, if you fall asleep immediately after going to bed and do not wake up without an alarm clock, you should increase the sleep duration.

A night with little sleep is usually no problem for athletes. This is the good news. So you do not have to worry if you can not get your eye on the day before the competition. But just in the week before the competition you should be very careful to get enough sleep.

Mah summarizes her sleeping tips for athletes as follows:

- Look at sleep like a workout

- Increase the sleep time a few weeks before the competition

- Pay attention to the same sleep rhythm; go to bed at the same time and get up

- If you get too little sleep at night, take a nap during the day.

Also read: recovery and regeneration

Christian Riedel


1. C. Mah. Study Shows Sleep Extension Improves Athletic Performance and Mood. Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. June 8, 2009.

2. C. Mah. Extended Sleep and the Effects on Mood and Athletic Performance at Collegiate Swimmers. Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. June 9, 2008.

3. C. Mah. Extra Sleep Improves Athletes' Performance. Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. June 14, 2007.

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