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  • Writer's pictureJosh Hagen

The Importance of Good Sleep Patterns for Athletes

The Legal and Free Performance Enhancement You are Probably Missing Out On!

When exactly did humanity decide that coffee and energy drinks could take the place of sleep? Whenever it was, we were wrong, especially in the case of elite athletes.

The negative effects of a lack of sleep are actually highly detrimental to performance, and getting a couple of extra hours of sleep over and above the recommended standard 8 hours may just give a sizeable competitive edge to those who partake.

The Big Guys are doing it, so why aren’t you?

The Blue Jays and other professional clubs are researching sleep and trying to get more out of athletes’ sleep. The High Performance Department of the Toronto Blue Jays actually took on the mantra “prepare, work, recover”, and research suggests that we should all be making this our motto.

How much is enough?

How do you know if you’re getting enough sleep?  A nice rule of thumb is if you fall asleep within 20 minutes of laying down, and wake up without an alarm, you’re probably getting the right amount of sleep.  If you immediately crash when your head hits the pillow, and need an alarm to get out of bed every morning, you’re most certainly deprived of sleep.

What are the risks of not getting enough?

The risks are almost immeasurable. Here are the (scary) highlights:

A massive dip in testosterone production

Sleeping 6 hours a night instead of 8 puts your testosterone production at the level of someone 10 years your senior. 

Blood sugar chaos

A study by Matt Walker and his team, found that after one week of shortened sleep, blood sugar levels get so out of line that doctors would classify you as pre-diabetic. 

The big C

The WHO (World Health Organization) has listed any type of night time shift work as a probable carcinogen due to the causal link to lack of sleep and Cancer. Studies show that a lack of sleep will cause cancer to grow 200% faster, and to metastasize in a much shorter window. 

In a nutshell, when you’re operating on a sleep deficit, you’ll get sick more, be more severely sick, have less energy, have less control over your emotions, and screw up your hormone production.

What are the benefits of sleep?

What are some benefits of sleeping a full 8 hours, or even 10? 

Benefits to the brain

Adequate sleep means that you’re far more likely to learn new skills and retain new information.  A proper night’s sleep before learning is the equivalent of making sure that a sponge is properly dried out before trying to use it to soak up water.

A proper night’s sleep after learning is the equivalent of hitting the “save” button on those new memories or skills, so that you don’t forget them.

A study in Edina, Minnesota changed a high school’s daily start time from 7:25am to 8:30am.  The following year, after the schedule change, the average SAT scores of the top 10% of students jumped an incredible 212 points to an average of 1,500.

Benefits to athletes

Cheri Mah of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory authored a study published in 2009 wherein they followed the Stanford University women's tennis team for five weeks, as they attempted to get 10 hours of sleep each night. Those who increased their sleep time ran faster sprints, and hit more accurate tennis shots than while getting their usual amount of sleep.  

What could sleep mean for judoka?

How can we take advantage of this information for high performance judo? Here are some easy-to-implement tips that you may not have considered.

Watch the clock

Try keeping your athletes in a consistent sleeping pattern. They should go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including weekends.

Sleeping in on the weekend does not magically make up for sleep lost during the week.  A little discipline here can make a huge difference.

Get timing on your side

Training on a Saturday morning on a consistent basis may help the athletes keep a healthy sleeping pattern, in addition to getting their bodies more physiologically prepared to compete at tournaments, which are usually held on weekend mornings. 

Use travel for an edge Plan your travel to events with sleep in mind. If you’re travelling overseas, go a day or two earlier. While this may somewhat increase the cost of the trip, if you’re travelling all that way to perform at a major event, you should put yourself in a position to perform at your best.  Why prepare yourself to fail?

Don’t go into the light

We know that young people especially are spending anywhere from 4 to 9 hours a day on their devices. Keep athletes’ video game playing, social media, and texting to daylight hours. Artificial light, especially the blue light from a screen, tricks the brain into delaying the release of melatonin, which is necessary for keeping your body on a rhythm.

The verdict on sleep

In a sport where the slightest rotation of the body can mean you lose, with no score, or you win, with an ippon, keeping a consistent, quality sleep pattern could just give you and your athletes enough of an edge to achieve your goals.


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