Ways to Improve Your Sleep for Better Athletic Performance 

There’s no denying a bad night’s sleep can ruin your game. But a lot of people don’t think about the positive effects that a fantastic night of sleep can have on their athletic performance. They focus solely on avoiding the negative impacts of a bad night’s sleep.

Even if you don’t have trouble sleeping, improving the quality of your sleep can improve your performance. Here are some ways to make sure you’re getting not just sufficient sleep quantity but optimal sleep quality.

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Maintain Set Bedtimes and Waketimes

Having a consistent sleep schedule throughout the entire week is one of the most important parts of sleep hygiene. And it’s just as vital even if you don’t normally have trouble going to sleep.

This is because having a set bedtime every night primes your body to start producing melatonin in preparation for sleep. This can not only help ensure that you go to sleep almost immediately after getting into bed but that you get the right amount of deep sleep to wake up feeling refreshed and recuperated.

Create a Bedtime Routine

Psychological association is a powerful tool that you can use to improve your sleep. When you have a certain bedtime routine, your brain starts to associate your bedtime rituals with going to sleep. This can help you wind down and start getting into a sleep mindset.

Everyone’s bedtime routine will look a little different, but as a general rule, you need to start your routine between half an hour and an hour before going to sleep. Maybe you read a book for a little while before going to bed. Maybe you shower, do your skincare routine, and brush your teeth. Maybe you settle down with a cup of warm milk for sleep.

As long as you practice your ritual every night right before bed, your brain will start to associate it with the time for sleep.

Optimize Your Sleep Environment

Contrary to popular belief, you are aware to a certain extent even when you’re not awake. If there are a bunch of little distractions in your sleep environment, you may have trouble getting enough deep sleep.

This means you need to get rid of things that can distract your brain from sleep and partially wake you up. Your bedroom should be almost completely or completely dark. It should also be soundless except for perhaps a consistent noise source, like having a fan on while sleeping. And it should be cold to help you maintain the slightly lowered core body temperature necessary for sleep.

Get Rid of Bedroom Electronics

Perhaps the most important part of optimizing your sleep environment is getting rid of electronics in the bedroom. Electronics are not only a major distraction from sleep, but they also teach your brain to subconsciously associate the bedroom and the bed with entertainment rather than sleep. This means devices like televisions, laptops, tablets, and cell phones should never be used in the bedroom and, especially, in the bed.

Avoid Sleep Disruptors

There are also lots of things you should avoid doing at a certain point before bed in order to ensure your sleep is not disrupted.


Caffeine is a stimulant and will keep you awake if it is in your system when you get into bed. It also has a long half life, which means it can take your body hours to process it out of your system. This means the best time to quit drinking caffeine is no later than lunch time.

Certain Medications

There are many different medications that can disrupt your sleep and even cause insomnia. If you have a condition that needs to be treated and are worried one of your medications is interrupting your sleep, speak with your doctor about changing your drug regimen. Just remember never to stop taking a drug without speaking to your doctor first.

Large Meals

Eating a huge meal right before bed can disrupt your sleep because lying down flat can cause you to experience heartburn, indigestion, and acid reflux. These digestive issues can cause pain and discomfort that messes with your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep. So it’s important to avoid eating too much right before bed.

Keep a Consistent Exercise Routine (Even in the Off Season)

If you play a sport that has a specific season, you may be tempted to kick it in the off season. However, going from intense exercise to much less exercise can have a negative impact on your sleep. This means if you want to maintain your sleep quality and quantity during the off season, you should not change your exercise habits too much.

Consume Sleep-Promoting Foods and Drinks

There are many foods and drinks that can help promote sleep naturally, so you should consider trying out a few of them to see if they work for you. Common sleep-promoting ingredients include:

  • Lavender
  • Chamomile, particularly in a tea for sleep
  • Almonds
  • Turkey
  • Kiwi
  • Tart cherry
  • Walnuts
  • Fatty fish

Just remember to consume the foods on this list at least an hour before bedtime.

Try Not to Worry About Losing Sleep

Just about everyone who’s had insomnia knows the ironic fact that the more you worry about losing sleep, the more sleep you lose. This is because anxiety can keep you awake.

In fact, studies have shown that people who place more emphasis on sleep and the negative impacts of a lack of sleep, paradoxically, wind up losing more sleep and suffering more negative impacts from sleep loss.

This means your self-talk around sleep is important. Yes, getting a good night’s sleep is ideal. However, remembering that one bad night of sleep is probably not going to destroy your life can help you avoid worrying yourself awake.

Get a Fantastic Performance Mattress

You’d be amazed at just how many people are kept awake by their uncomfortable, saggy, mattresses. The problem is not just that many people don’t replace their mattresses as often as they should. It’s also that they often buy the wrong mattress for their sleep style.

This means you need to get a mattress that is the right firmness for your sleep style and the right material for your sleep needs. For instance, hot sleepers would need a mattress that can shed heat, and active sleepers need a mattress that can bounce back underneath them.

And all sleepers need to replace their mattress with the right frequency, though how often it needs replacing will depend on its materials. Some types are more durable and sag-free mattresses than others. Not doing so often enough can lead to poor sleep.

How Sleep Can Affect Your Performance as an Athlete

There are a myriad of ways in which your sleep quality can affect your performance as an athlete. Below are just a few.

Speed and Endurance

Even short-term sleep deprivation can measurably reduce sprint speed and overall endurance, especially for serious athletes, who were found to be more vulnerable to the negative impacts of sleep loss than recreational athletes.

Reaction Time

Even a minimal amount of sleep deprivation can have serious impacts on reaction times. Of course, this can have severe negative consequences for your athletic performance, but it can also put you in danger when you’re not on the field or the court. For instance, slowed reaction time due to sleep deprivation makes you exponentially more likely to be injured or killed in a car accident.


The negative cognitive impacts of sleep deprivation are well-known. The reduced cognitive function associated with sleep deprivation can have a profound impact on your ability to focus while playing your sport, which can lead to lost scoring opportunities and even increased injury risk.

Injury Risk

Athletes who suffer from sleep deprivation are at increased risk of virtually all injuries. This is due to a combination of the physical and cognitive impacts that a lack of sleep can have on your brain and body. For instance, you could be injured because you were not able to focus the way that you needed to or because you pushed yourself beyond the point of what your sleep-deprived body could handle at the time.

Not only are athletes who sleep less than eight hours per night around 70% more likely to report an injury. The negative impacts that sleep deprivation have on the immune system mean you might be playing sick or even too sick to play, as well.


Another major aspect of your performance that sleep deprivation can negatively impact is your accuracy. This may not be a big deal for every sport, but if you play basketball, football, golf, or any other sport that requires a high level of hand-eye coordination and accuracy, you could be in for a rough game if you regularly lose sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can lack of sleep really impact my physical performance?

Sleep deprivation can negatively impact your physical and mental performance in a variety of ways. Even short-term sleep deprivation can have short-term impacts on your performance.

For instance, a few nights of bad sleep can make you slower, less accurate, less focused, and even more prone to injury. Long-term sleep deprivation can have even worse impacts. It may lead to permanent brain injuries, and it can also cause a weakened immune system that leaves you more vulnerable to contagious illness. 

This is why it's important to foster good sleep habits and make plenty of time for sleep, especially during intense parts of your season. 

What is the best way to improve my sleep?

Practicing good sleep hygiene is the best way to improve your sleep. There are several factors required for good sleep hygiene. You need to set consistent sleep and wake times and stick with them, even on the weekends and during the off season.

You also need to create a sleep environment that fosters good sleep. You'll want to have a dark, quiet, and cool bedroom. You also need a mattress that is appropriate for your sleep needs. And you need a sleep environment that is free of electronics and other sources of blue light. 

How much sleep do I need to be at my peak?

Every individual is different when it comes to their sleep needs. The amount of sleep you need can also depend on your age. As a general rule, we need more sleep in childhood, and our sleep needs start to taper off into adulthood.

This means if you are a student athlete still in high -school or even college, you may need between eight and ten hours of sleep per night. And adult athletes need between seven and eight hours of sleep per night. Almost no one can do with fewer than seven hours of sleep, so if you are getting less sleep than this, you will need to make some lifestyle changes.

Which mattress type is best for performance-enhancing sleep?

Which mattress type is best to enhance your performance depends on how you sleep. There is no single mattress type that is best for everyone, but as a general rule, performance mattresses feature a combination of cooling and responsiveness technologies that create a cool sleep surface that does not have issues with body impressions.

This means you should be able to roll around without waiting for your mattress to spring back into place, and your sleep surface should not heat up at any point during the night. Mattresses that fit this description include latex, gel memory foam, and hybrid mattresses.

Do I need to avoid certain foods to improve my sleep?

Yes, there are certain foods and drinks that can seriously impact your sleep. Probably the biggest substance that messes with people's sleep quality and quantity is caffeine.

There are two problems with caffeine that can make it highly disruptive to your sleep. First off, it is a stimulant, which means it causes arousal in your brain. This is why it feels like caffeine jolts you awake in the morning.

The second problem is caffeine's extremely long half life means it can stay in your body long after you have consumed it. This is why it is important to avoid caffeine after lunch if you want to ensure it does not impact your sleep.

Bottom Line

Getting sleep is vital to athletic performance. The good news is with a few lifestyle tweaks, you can improve poor sleep and even make good sleep into great sleep.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.

Andrew Russell, Wellness Writer Andrew Russell

Andrew Russell is a part-time writer and full-time sleep enthusiast. At Zoma, Andrew lends his sleep expertise and writes many of our “better sleep” guides. Outside of Zoma, Andrew puts his advice to the test, always trying new ways to get deeper, more restorative sleep. We appreciate Andrew because he doesn’t give advice that he doesn’t follow himself, so you can feel confident his solutions for better sleep really do the trick. Andrew's work has been featured on Ladders, Bright Side, and several other publications.

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