The Importance of Sleep & Recovery for Professional Athletes

By Jeremy Roenick

Many people assume that professional athletes keep their bodies healthy and strong by spending countless hours in the gym. It’s true that staying active and physically fit plays a significant role in your success as a professional athlete. But what goes on outside of the gym also has a huge impact on performance. In fact, getting enough sleep and giving your body enough time to recover from physical activity is just as important as the physical activity itself.

Intense physical activity takes a toll on the body -- as someone who spent two decades playing in the National Hockey League (NHL), I know this all too well. It can deplete your body’s energy sources and break down your muscles. The good news is that your body will naturally repair this damage while you’re asleep. However, if you’re not getting enough high quality sleep, your body will not have enough time to restore itself from damage caused by strenuous activity.

How Sleep and Recovery Affect Performance

Studies have shown that lack of sleep leads to an increase in cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone. High levels of this hormone can interfere with the body’s ability to repair broken tissue, making it more difficult for the body to repair damaged muscles. As a result, athletes who fail to get enough sleep can experience muscle fatigue and soreness that negatively impacts their performance.

Insufficient sleep can also affect an athlete’s glycogen production. Glycogen is stored in the muscles and liver and used as a backup source of energy. If you’re physically active for more than 90 minutes, your body starts to tap into this energy source. But when you’re not getting enough sleep, your body produces less and less glycogen. Low glycogen levels can severely impact an athlete’s performance - especially those who play for long periods of time. Endurance athletes who do not have enough stored glycogen will not have the energy they need to make it through an entire game.

Athletes need to react quickly to sudden changes in their environment, and it’s difficult to make accurate, split-second decisions when you are fatigued. In fact, researchers at Stanford University found that lack of sleep slows down the average reaction time even more than alcohol consumption. You would never think about drinking alcohol before a big game, so you should pay attention to how your sleep schedule affects your reaction time, too.

The bottom line is that athletes need a lot of high quality sleep - regardless of whether they are in the NHL or the Little Leagues. Getting enough quality sleep will help you achieve your top speed, endurance, accuracy, reaction time, and coordination. To realize these results, athletes need to prioritize sleep in the same manner that they prioritize training in the gym or on the field.

How to Get Enough Rest Between Games

Serena Williams once told a reporter that she enjoys going to bed as early as seven o’clock in the evening. ESPN reported that LeBron James gets as much as 12 hours of sleep per night. If these athletes can find time for adequate rest, so can you.

Avoid consuming caffeine, alcohol, and sleeping pills. It’s best to let your body naturally adjust to a sleep schedule instead of attempting to control it it with stimulants and prescription medication. If your body is struggling to adjust to an earlier bedtime, try incorporating a more natural sleep supplement like Som Sleep. Som is packed with active ingredients like magnesium and melatonin that help you re-establish and stick to your sleep schedule, especially when traveling between time zones.

Creating an environment conducive to sleep is critical to getting a good night’s rest. Athletes that travel for games - or anyone who travels for work - can create a comfortable environment by bringing pieces from home with them on the road. It may seem insignificant, but something as simple as sleeping with your most comfortable pillow from home instead of one the hotel provides can make a huge difference.

Finally, it’s of the utmost importance that athletes listen to their bodies. Soreness, fatigue, and concentration issues can all be signs of insufficient sleep. Remember, athletes often need more sleep than the average adult, so you may not play your best after getting even seven or eight hours of rest.

Prioritizing recovery allowed me to reach many personal goals while playing professional hockey, and keeps me going strong now. Focus on giving your body the rest it needs so you can find out what you’re truly capable of as an athlete.

Sign up to get all things Som delivered straight to your inbox.