How sleep helps you play sports
Did you know that sleep improves your ability to play sports, remember moves on the field, and repair your muscles? In fact, sleep can:
- Improve memory and game-play
- Help consolidate muscle memory
- Ensure you recover physically
- Boost your reaction time
- Build muscle.
That’s right - getting a good night can help you play tennis, football, or whatever other sport you love. Here’s why.
Sleep vs talent
Once upon a time, a psychologist called Anders Ericsson wrote a paper that disputed the notion of ‘natural talent’. Instead, he argued, top-level experts are where they are because of ‘deliberate practice’. That’s right - Ericsson believed that the likes of Tiger Woods, Serena Williams and Pelé weren’t born great, they were made great by the time they dedicated to their profession.
In 2008 journalist Malcolm Gladwell took it further with the ‘10,000-Hour Rule”. According to Gladwell, if you practise your skill for 10,000 hours you’ll become an expert in anything from music to sports.
There’s plenty of evidence to support this theory, but here’s the thing - no matter how much talent you’re born with, or how many thousands of hours you spent practising, none of it will come to a thing if you’re not in tip-top shape (that means both mentally and physically). And the best way to make sure you’re on top form? Getting enough sleep, of course!
That’s right - sleep helps us become better athletes (kind of). When we’re asleep we’re improving our memory, giving our muscles time to recover, and even making sure we have good reaction times.
Sleeping well can improve your memory (and game play)
Did you know that the more physical activity you undertake, the more brain cells you produce in your memory area? Then when you go to sleep your brain gets busy consolidating all these new connections. Over the next few days, when you’re learning all your moves for that dance performance or memorising your tactics for the big game, you’re going to need all the memory power you need. That’s why sleeping well means you’re more likely to ace it on the sports field.
There’s a strong correlation between sleep and muscle memory
Muscle memory doesn’t start in your muscles - it’s all about your brain. When you have ‘muscle memory’, you’ve learned how to perform a physical action so well that you don’t consciously think about it anymore, and it feels automatic. (Just imagine how hard it would be if you had to consciously coordinate your arm muscles every time you tried to hit a tennis ball.)
Just like any other kind of memory, good sleep is an important part of retaining everything you’ve learned about physical movement. Get those hours in and you’re giving yourself the best chance to develop muscle memory.
Sleep helps you recover physically
This is one of the more well-known ones: sleep gives your body time to repair after physical performance. For sports professionals, suffering an injury can be a serious career setback and sleep is critical to this recovery, but it’s important to sleep well in less extreme cases too. In fact, working hard at a sport means your muscles need time to recover even if they aren’t injured.
During sleep, the hormones that help keep our immune system strong really start to circulate. And as we’re not moving around much, our body has the time to focus on healing our organs and muscles rather than keeping us on our feet.
Sleep boosts your reaction time
If you’re still not sold, try this one on for size: a good night’s sleep for a pro-tennis player can give them a 42% increase in hitting accuracy and a 4.3% boost split-second decision making. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, can make it harder to react properly or even make a simple decision.
If that doesn’t make a good night’s sleep worth it, we don’t know what does.
Sleep and muscle growth
That’s right - sleep makes you stronger! While you’re in dreamland your body starts producing the hormones that built your muscles. In fact, when you’re not in REM sleep (that’s the kind where you have dreams), you have more blood flow to your muscles, which helps with tissue repair and growth.
So as well as enjoying those protein shakes after the gym, make sure you get some decent shut-eye at night, too.
So how long do athletes sleep for?
No matter what you believe in the time versus talent debate you can believe this: sleep is one of the most important elements in maintaining that performance.
Did you know that Roger Federer aims for a solid 10 hours sleep a night as part of his training regime? And our very own Andy Murray reportedly outdoes that by a further 2 hours! Most of us only know what that amount of sleep feels like on Sunday after crawling into bed at 4am.
If 12 hours’ sleep feels a little ambitious (it makes us nervous just thinking about it) settle for a healthy eight instead. We can’t guarantee you a spot on centre court, but we do promise you’ll see your performance improve.
Help! I can’t sleep after exercising
Not being able to sleep after a workout is a very common problem. It doesn’t make sense, right? After all, your legs ache and you’ve just used up a lot of energy, so hitting the sack should make sense.
It turns out that exercising too soon before bed can make it even harder to sleep. That’s because your adrenaline levels and heart rate are increased, and neither of these things make it likely you’ll drop off. Instead, stick to exercising earlier in the day. It’ll tire you out, but you’ll have the whole day to calm down, ready for a relaxing, sleep-inducing evening. If you can’t exercise in the morning, wait at least a couple of hours before bed instead.
We do know one other thing that could help you drop off, and that’s the perfect mattress. Ours are an advanced hybrid that combine unique springs with memory foam, meaning you’ll never be uncomfortable - and you can even try your mattress for 200 days before returning it, no questions asked. Check them out!