The Importance of Sleep in Performance

The Importance of Sleep in Performance

Great champions realize in their journey that the balance of training and rest is essential to good performance.  In fact, 5-time Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser states “Rest is a weapon”, when it comes to performing well.

A key factor in rest and recovery is sleep.  Getting enough quality sleep to allow yourself to recover is essential.   Sleep has been shown to help you recover from training and build strength, improve your concentration, learn and remember more of what you have experienced, store energy for competition or training the next day, manage stress and anxiety, and build a strong immune system.  It is important to visualize your body as a battery and you need time to recharge the battery, especially if you are training hard and competing regularly.


The Science of Sleep

There are four stages of sleep.   It starts with Stage 1, which is the lightest sleep as you are just starting to nod off.   This progresses to Stage 4 sleep which is the deepest phase of sleep and is also called NREM Sleep (Non-Rapid Eye Movement).  Each sleep cycle, from Stage 1-4, takes approximately 90 minutes to complete.  Between cycles as you head from Stage 4 to Stage 1 again has a period of sleep known as REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) and this is the point when you likely will dream.  Every stage of sleep has different effects on recovery. For more information about sleep cycles check out:

                                                                   Nightingold, 2023


It takes between 7 – 10 hours for you to get through 4 cycles of sleep which has been shown to give you adequate rest.  If you sleep is broken by disturbances or becoming awake, the cycles are not completed fully and the restoration is not as complete.   Younger athletes, who are growing, will require more sleep, while masters level athletes may require less.


Melatonin is the hormone that starts to initiate you feeling tired.  It is triggered by darkness.   As the environment becomes dark, your photo receptors in your eyes trigger your brain to release melatonin which causes you to feel sleepy.   This is why you will feel more tired in the fall as daylight begins to decrease earlier in the evening.   This is also why looking at objects such as a phone, tablet, or computer (which give off light in the “blue” spectrum) prior to sleep makes it hard to fall asleep.  If the blue light stimulates your photo receptors it tricks the brain to think it is still bright out, so you will not produce as much melatonin.  Melatonin also is involved when you experience jetlag and sleep disturbances while travelling.  To read more about Jet lag click here


Tips for getting good quality Sleep


There are some keys to getting a good night’s sleep:


  • Set the scene – you should try to sleep in a dark room that is quiet and relatively cool (not hot or cold). Sometimes people find soft music, white noise, or sleep stories help them get to sleep.  Meditation often helps too.
  • Slow down your brain avoid blue screens (cell phones, computers, tv) for an hour before bed. In fact, it is recommended that you put your phone on silent or sleep mode and not even have it in the room as you sleep. Research also suggests taking some time to read a book before you sleep, helps your brain prepare for sleep.
  • What you consume matters – avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol as these disrupt sleep patterns.   Some medication may have to be taken at a particular time to make sure it doesn’t affect your sleep.  Try not to be hungry, but also not overfull when you head to bed.
  • Other tips – daily exercise has been shown to help you get restful sleep at night. Naps should not happen after 4 pm as it will then interfere with sleep that evening.


For more information on improving your chances of a good sleep click here.



There is also an advantage at times if you didn’t get a good night’s sleep to have a nap during the day.  It is important to understand some key points about naps so they leave you feeling refreshed and not sluggish.   While naps can last longer, the ideal time is between 20-30 minutes.   This is to keep you from getting into deeper stages of sleep which are harder to wake up from.   If you happen to nap longer, it is not bad, but just realize that you will experience something called Sleep Inertia….it will take you longer to wake up and feel refreshed that with a short nap.  The general rule as far as timing of being awake after a nap it that it takes as long as the nap did.   So, for example if you have a 20-minute nap, it takes you about 20 minutes after the nap to be fully alert.  If you nap for an hour, it takes an hour for you to be fully alert.   You need to plan for this if you are going to nap before a competition.  To help you wake up from a nap you can wash your face with cold water, or go for a brisk walk/light jog to get you back in action.


Sleep is a valuable, often misunderstood tool to help you recover, learn, perform well and be healthy.  A few simple steps can help you improve your performance.