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The importance of sleep for RECOVERY

By: Lewis Craig Pogo Physio GC


Sleep is an important part of recovery for any and every athlete. We exist in a training world where there is a delicate balance between training hard and recovering to maximise performance, whilst also avoiding injury. Monitoring our training volume is crucial, yet we must not neglect the other crucial element in the equation: recovery. “Why did I get injured?” is a question every athlete should ask. When training volume is spot on, loads is well monitored, the answer to the question can be because of poor recovery. Recovery involves many different elements, of which one of the most crucial is sleep.


We exist in a training world where there is a delicate balance between training hard and recovering to maximise performance, whilst also avoiding injury. #performbetter @pogophysio


Looking at the literature on the importance of sleep, there are multiple studies linking sleep with injury or physical and cognitive performance.

  • Finestone and Milgrom (2008) found that sleep has a role in development stress fractures. By reducing marching load and introducing a recommended minimum 6 hours of sleep a night, there was a 60% reduction in stress fracture incidence.


  • A review by Watson (2017) emphasised accumulating evidence towards increased sleep duration and improved sleep quality in athletes are associated with improved performance and competitive success. In addition, better sleep may reduce the risk of both injury and illness in athletes, not only optimizing health but also potentially enhancing performance through increased participation in training.


  • Knowles et al. (2018) found inadequate sleep impairs maximal muscle strength in compound movements when performed without specific interventions designed to increase motivation. They emphasise that if sleep is inadequate strategies to supplement motivation, such as training in groups, ingesting caffeine, or training prior to prolonged periods of wakefulness may assist groups to effectively perform resistance training.


  • Milewski et al. (2014) found adolescent athletes who slept on average less than 8 hours per night were 1.7 times more likely to have had an injury compared with athletes who slept for ≥8 hours.


  • A systematic review by Bonnar et al. (2018) looked at several interventions to improve performance, including sleep extension and napping, sleep hygiene, and post-exercise recovery strategies. Evidence suggests that sleep extension had the most beneficial effects on subsequent performance.


  • A review by Simpson et al. (2017) highlights that domains of athletic performance (e.g., speed and endurance), neurocognitive function (e.g., attention and memory), and physical health (e.g., illness and injury risk, and weight maintenance) have all been shown to be negatively affected by insufficient sleep or experimentally modelled sleep restriction. In addition, adults (athletes or not) have been found to demonstrate poor self-assessment of their sleep duration and quality. In light of this, athletes may require more careful monitoring and intervention to identify individuals at risk and promote proper sleep to improve both performance and overall health (Watson, 2017; Simpson, 2017).

Sleep Enhancing Strategies (Bird, 2003)

  • Strategies to optimise sleep quality and quantity include approaches for expanding total sleep duration, improving sleep environment, and identifying potential sleep disorders.

  • Other Sleep Recommendations Include :(Bird, 2013)

    • Amount of sleep – a frequent generalisation is 7-9 hours, although adolescent or those with heavy training may require closer to 10 hours

    • Regular sleep routine and habits – maintain a regular schedule of going to be and rising, avoid computer or television use in bed, eliminate the bedroom clock, avoid coffee/nicotine or alcohol just prior to bed.

    • Napping – limited to 30 min and avoided in late afternoon or early evening

    • Recovery from Training/Competition – Reductions in muscle soreness, inflammation, and pain may allow for improved sleep quality

    • Reduce worry and anxiety – psychological skills of relaxation, goal setting, imagery, and self-talk emerged as particularly pertinent in influencing the competitive anxiety response in athletes. Use of relaxation techniques prior to bed such as positive suggestion, and visualization are recommended as part of the sleep routine to ensure a clear mind and relaxed state when going to bed. Mobile apps that help people practice mindfulness skills, for instance, might prove to be effective in enhancing mental recovery (Birrer et al., 2012).

If you are monitoring training load, great! If you add in great recovery and sleep habits you will be well on your way to minimising injury risk and maximising performance.



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