Why More Sleep Helps Athletes Recover Faster

Posted March 23, 2019

Sleep provides time for the body to recover, heal, and recharge. Everyone from the casual exerciser to the serious athlete benefit from a full night’s rest. The typical adult needs seven to nine hours per night, but there may be circumstances in which you may need more. Adequate sleep allows the body to fully recover from daily stress and demanding workouts. Sometimes, to get the sleep you need, you have to make a few changes to your daily habits.  

How Muscles Recover During Sleep

The average adult goes through five or six sleep cycles per night, moving through each of five sleep stages. It’s during stage III sleep, the first of the deep sleep stages, that the body releases human growth hormone (GH) and starts the repair of muscle tissue. The release of GH peaks during the first sleep cycle of the night then gets released in progressively smaller amounts in each subsequent sleep cycle.

An altered sleep cycle, one in which sleep is delayed by two or three hours, causes the body to release less GH than normal, slowing down the recovery process. And, of course, on nights you only sleep five or six hours, muscle tissue isn’t exposed to enough GH to finish the repair process either. The muscle tissues need a full seven to nine hours on a regular schedule to fully recover.

In some cases, athletes on an intense training schedule may need more sleep than average. A study conducted amongst the Stanford University’s men’s varsity basketball team found that extending sleep time from eight to ten hours measurably improved athlete performance. Free-throw percentages increased by 9 percent and three-point field goal percentages went up by 9.2 percent. Both reaction and sprint times improved as well. Athletes also reported improved physical and mental well-being both on and off the court.

It’s not just adequate sleep you need but the right amount of sleep for your activity level. Days with an intense workout may warrant an extra hour of sleep so factor that in accordingly.

How to Improve Your Sleep Quality

A well-rested mind and body are quicker, stronger, and faster. Thankfully, sleep patterns respond to personal habits and behaviors, which gives you the power to improve your sleep quality (and quantity) by developing healthy sleep hygiene. (Sleep hygiene includes all the habits and behaviors that contribute to the quality of your sleep.) We suggest:

  • A Predictable Nightly Routine: The human body craves predictability and consistency. A nightly routine helps trigger the sleep cycle by signaling the brain to start the release of sleep hormones. In a hectic world, a nightly routine also provides an opportunity to release tension and stress before bed. A warm bath, reading a book, or listening to quiet music are classic favorites you can try if you’re not sure where to start.

  • Get to Bed on Time: If you’re going to get that full seven to nine hours, you have to get to bed on time. When you keep a consistent bedtime, the brain automatically adjusts your sleep cycle to follow your preferred schedule. For the best results, pick a time and stick to it, even on weekends.

  • Eat Your Way to Better Sleep: The body relies on repeated behaviors to help control the sleep cycle, including meal timing. Evenly space your meals and try to eat them around the same time every day. If you need a late night snack, keep it light and choose foods with nutrients that support sleep hormone production like dairy products, almonds, and bananas.

If after you’ve implemented better sleep hygiene practices and you’re still not getting enough sleep, you may have an underlying sleep disorder. For example, excessive snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea. Even teeth grinding can be a symptom of a deeper disorder that may need treatment. Consult your physician if you suspect more may be at work than poor sleep habits.


Better sleep and recovery times are as close as one full night’s rest away. By putting sleep on your priority list, you’re opening the door to improved physical, mental, and emotional health.  

Guest post by our partners at https://www.tuck.com/

Stacey L. Nash is a Seattle area writer for Tuck.com whose insomnia led her to research all aspects of sleep. With a degree in communications from the University of Puget Sound, she helps put sleep into the forefront of the health and wellness conversation. When not researching and writing about sleep, she spends time with her husband and four children on their heavily-wooded, twelve-acre piece of heaven.

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