Sleep and Athletic Performance

When it comes to keeping athletes in top physical form, there are three pillars: training, nutrition and sleep. At Henry Ford Sleep Disorders Center, we have sleep medicine experts who specialize in helping athletes optimize their sleep.

How sleep affects athletic performance

In order to perform at your best, your body needs to be in top shape. For that to be the case, you need to be well rested throughout your training and as you prepare for a big game or competition. Not getting adequate sleep can impact your performance in a number of ways, including:

  • Higher rates of injury: During deep sleep, the growth hormones necessary for muscle repair and recovery are secreted. Without adequate sleep, athletes are more likely to get injured.
  • Slower reaction time: Studies have shown that sleep-deprived individuals have slower reaction times. When winning is measured in milliseconds, you need to be able to react quickly and accurately.
  • Increased pain perception: The less sleep you get, the more heightened your response to pain.
  • Poor decision-making: When you’re sleep-deprived, the part of your brain that enables good judgment and quick decision-making is impaired.

Services we offer athletes

Coaches, teams and individual athletes from around the country seek out the expertise of the sleep specialists at Henry Ford. Our highly skilled doctors understand the unique needs of athletes and provide them with the tools they need to optimize sleep and optimize performance. When we work with athletes, we provide:

  • Education: Athletes push their bodies to extremes during training and competition, but may not even think about the importance of sleep for their athletic performance. Our first job is to educate athletes about why restful sleep is just as essential to their success as any other part of their training regimen.
  • Relaxation tools: After an adrenaline-pumping game or competition, athletes often find it hard to wind down enough to get to sleep. Our sleep experts can teach athletes a variety of relaxation techniques -- such as progressive muscle relaxation, meditation and mindfulness -- to make it easier to fall asleep.
  • Sleep habits: Your routine around bedtime can either help or hinder your ability to fall asleep. We explain the importance of good sleep habits -- such as avoiding electronics while in bed, keeping your room dark and cool, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol.
  • Personalized prescription for avoiding jet lag: Athletes often have to travel for games and competitions. Even when they’ve crossed several time zones, they need to arrive ready to perform at their best. Our experts can help by creating personalized pre- and post-flight strategies. We print out detailed sleep instructions for each athlete with specifics on what time to go to bed, what time to wake up, when it’s OK to take a nap and when to get exposure to light to help acclimate to a new time zone.

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