In the fast-paced world of sports and fitness, student athletes often focus on rigorous training routines, specialized diets, and cutting-edge recovery techniques to enhance performance all of which can take up extreme amounts of time. The importance of a good night’s sleep is almost always underestimated especially when balancing it with training and schoolwork. With a new year, it’s the perfect time for athletes of all ability levels to make their sleep as high of a priority as every other aspect of their lives.

Sleep plays a pivotal role in the recovery process and serves as a powerful tool for injury prevention. During sleep, the body undergoes a series of physiological processes essential for recovery. Growth hormone, a key player in muscle repair and development, is released in higher amounts during deep sleep stages. This hormone aids in the restoration of tissues, promoting muscle growth and repair after an intense rehab program or working out.

Additionally, the body’s immune system is bolstered during sleep, enhancing its ability to ward off potential infections and inflammation that could impede recovery. Hence, many student athletes fall victim to illness during this time of year. Illness on top of lack of sleep further hinders progress as your body is working on fighting off the sickness and is sleep deprived.

Sleep deficiency has also been linked to increased stress hormones like cortisol and inflammation, which can compromise the body’s ability to recover from injuries. Moreover, a well-rested mind is crucial for maintaining focus and coordination during workouts, reducing the risk of accidents and injuries. Furthermore, a good night’s sleep improves cognitive function, enhancing an athlete’s ability to make quick decisions on the field or court, ultimately reducing the likelihood of injury.

Recognizing and prioritizing the importance of sleep can significantly contribute to an athlete’s overall well-being, academic achievement, and long-term success in their chosen sport. Here are a few ways to make sure that you’re getting the best sleep that you can:

  • Make sleep a priority. Create a bedtime goal and hold yourself accountable. You must be consistent each day.
  • Wind down before bed. About an hour before bedtime, set an alarm and start winding down. Develop a bedtime routine that helps you relax and make sure to perform it every evening.
  • Avoid electronics at bedtime. Blue light from these devices can affect your circadian rhythm.
  • Eliminate late-day caffeine and sugar. Caffeine and sugar don’t need to be completely removed, but these substances can take time to metabolize so avoid them in the PM hours of the day.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene. Your bedroom should be cool, dark and comfortable. You may want to consider a white noise machine or fan for background noise.
  • Treat your aches and pains. Pain can absolutely affect good sleep. Make sure that your body is feeling right by scheduling with a physical therapist to ensure that your musculoskeletal system is in good health

Sleep should be regarded as a non-negotiable aspect of any athlete’s training regimen, weekend warrior, mom or dad of 1 or more kids (I feel your pain!). It is not merely a period of rest, but a critical phase where the body undergoes processes vital for recovery and injury prevention. Hopefully these tips can help your athlete get the deep sleep they need to perform at their best in 2024.

Meet the Expert

Joe Crawford, PT, DPT
West Deptford Clinic Director

Joe became a physical therapist because he has always had a passion for health and wellness. He loves helping individuals to reach their maximal potential. His commitment to excellence in his profession is evident through his rigorous pursuit of knowledge and skills. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist as well as a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist through the American Physical Therapy Association. Learn more about Joe here.