Sleeping is a vital need for the human body. It plays a huge role in maintaining your health and well-being. When you sleep, important bodily functions, which include both physical and mental processes, are carried out. Some of the things that happen to your body when you’re asleep include repair of damaged tissues and stimulation of growth, restoration of your memory, and regulation of blood glucose levels. Therefore, it is essential that you get enough sleep to protect your physical and mental health and to prevent them from deteriorating. While sleep deficit can affect everyone, it wreaks havoc on athletes.

This is due to the fact that their lifestyle is much more active and their bodies are put through so much more stress and training. In this article, you will know more about sleep deficit, what causes it, and how it can negatively impair the performance of athletes.


Many champion athletes and sports persons recommend getting good sleep every single day, without any compromise. So then, how much sleep do athletes need in order to perform at their peak levels? It turns out that determining a fixed number is not simple, as everyone’s bodies are different. An average adult requires around 7 to 8 hours of sleep but athletes need much more. On an average, getting around 1 to 2 hours of extra sleep time over the average adult is sure to improve an athlete’s performance. So that puts the required number of hours of sleep at around 9 to 10 hours.


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For athletes, getting the right amount of deep sleep will help enhance their athletic performance, reduce the time taken to make split-second decisions, keep them alert and focused, and decrease the chance of injury. Just like how athletes in training require more caloric intake than the average person, they also need more sleep. As they’re constantly pushing their bodies to their limits, they need more time to recover.


Sleep deficit is becoming increasingly common these days. You might be surprised to know that sleep deficit does not only occur due to an underlying medical condition.


A lot of medical conditions are known to interfere with your sleep and cause sleep deficit. For instance, you might be suffering from sleep apnea, which is a medical condition where your breathing stops for a short period, forcing you to wake up. Restless leg syndrome is another sleep disorder in which you have a constant urge to move your legs, which can end up waking you prematurely. Depression, anxiety, and stress are all known factors that can mess with your sleep.


Caffeine is a stimulant that helps you stay awake, focused, and alert. Unlike what most people think, caffeine is not just found in coffee, but is also present in many other foods and beverages. Drinks such as cola or tea also contain caffeine in them. Eating foods or drinking beverages loaded with caffeine a few hours before you sleep can interrupt your sleep cycle, prevent you from falling asleep, and ultimately put you in sleep deficit.


Staring at a computer screen or at any electronic screen for a long time can disrupt your sleep and can drastically bring down your sleep quality and quantity. In addition to increasing the strain on your eyes, fixing your gaze on an electronic screen an hour or two before your bedtime can make it extremely tough for you to fall asleep.


Sleep deficit is not as innocuous as it may seem and can really mess with athletes. Some of the ways in which sleep deficit can negatively impact athletes and their performance are explained below.

1. Decrease in Energy

Athletes require high energy levels in order to perform optimally during training and competitions. Sleep deficit robs them of energy as it decreases their glycogen stores and reduces testosterone levels. Without proper levels of glycogen, which is the body’s main source of fuel, an athlete will not be able to perform at an optimal level for a long period of time.

2. Slower Reaction Times

Irrespective of the sport they’re into, most athletes require fast response times and reflexes in order to excel. Sleep deficit is known to increase the time taken to react to a particular situation, thereby preventing a sleep deprived athlete from performing optimally. Studies suggest that sleep deficit can increase reaction times by as much as 300%, meaning that you’re most likely to take three times the amount of time you normally require to react.

3. Increase in Injury Rates

When athletes are suffering from a sleep deficit, they’re not giving enough time for their bodies to repair and recover the damaged tissues and muscles. Putting their bodies through rigorous stress and training while they haven’t recovered properly can drastically increase the chances of injury. A study conducted by the University of California confirms that injury rates in young athletes increased in games that followed the night when they got less than 6 hours of sleep.

4. Shorter Careers

In addition to increasing the injury rates, sleep deficit also contributes significantly to shorter careers in athletes. This is due to the onset of muscular fatigue due to lack of sleep and sleep deprivation. When sleep deficit is chronic and lasts for prolonged periods of time, the muscles in the body constantly are weak and tired. They then lose their strength and their full range of motion. In certain cases of sleep deficit, athletes have even experienced muscular atrophy.

5. Increase in Errors of Judgement

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Lack of proper sleep does not only mess with athletes physically, but it also affects them mentally. Sleep deficit impairs judgement, which makes it harder for an athlete to predict trajectories, assess risks, and make quick decisions. Being deprived of sleep often leads to an athlete taking unwarranted risks, without taking the risk-to-reward ratio into consideration. Making judgement calls while sleep deprived is almost as risky as making them while intoxicated. Several studies have shown that lack of sleep affects the frontal lobe of the brain, which is responsible for problem solving and impulse control.

6. Decrease in Coordination

Another huge adverse effect that sleep deficit has on athletes is a decrease in the visual tracking and the hand-eye coordination department. With limited sleep, athletes find it difficult to visually track the on-field activities and to coordinate their hand-eye movements. For instance, a basketball player who is sleep deprived may find it difficult to track the ball, make and receive passes, and shoot the ball through the hoop.

7. Reduced Brain Function

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When you are asleep, your brain is still constantly working to consolidate your memories, skills, and the things you learnt and experienced during the day. When under a sleep deficit, your brain’s cognitive functions such as the ones listed above get impaired, leading to tons of problems relating to the functioning of the brain. For instance, an athlete’s attention, alertness, concentration, and focus, can all get affected. This can lead to him not being in a position where he can give his best.

8. Weight Gain

Athletes tend to spend a lot of time training to keep themselves as fit and lean as possible. But, without adequate sleep, they can pack on a lot of unwanted weight. This is due to the impaired hormone levels caused by sleep deficit, which can lead to an increase in hunger and appetite. A scientific study conducted in 2004 confirms that people who get less than 6 hours of sleep every day are almost 30% more likely to become obese. This undesirable increase in weight puts a lot of strain on the bones and the muscles of the athletes and bogs them down.

9. Decrease in Immune Function

Athletes eat clean, train regularly, and are generally focused on leading a healthy lifestyle. But, not getting enough sleep can put them on the dangerous path to an unhealthy lifestyle. Without sleep, the immune function of athletes suffers, and consequently, their ability to fight off infections also takes a hit. This ultimately leads to them falling sick very often, and prevents them from performing optimally on the field.

10.Neurological Effects and Decrease in Pain Tolerance

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Sleep deprived athletes may experience several neurological effects such as slurred speech, uncontrolled movements, shaking of the arms or the legs, and hyperactive tendon and muscular reflexes. In addition to that, they can also suffer from a low threshold for pain. Additionally, when athletes do not get adequate sleep, painful or uncomfortable activities that were once bearable may suddenly become enhanced and unbearable.


While all of this may sound scary, fortunately, there’s a way out of this. The first thing you will have to do is to erase the sleep debt, which means that you need to catch up on your sleep. It is as simple as that.

When you decide to catch up, make sure to take it slowly as doing it all at once will not work. For instance, if you are around 10 hours behind, incorporate an additional 1 or 2 hours of sleep per day till you’ve caught up. While you are at it, try to create a sort of a routine or a sleeping pattern that is perfect for you. You can also try keeping a diary or a journal to track your sleep so that you can always be sure that you’ve got the adequate amount of rest.


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