Sleep and the Athlete: Narrative Review and 2021 expert consensus recommendations

AUTHORS: Neil P Walsh1, Shona L Halson2, Charli Sargent3, Gregory D Roach3, Mathieu Nédélec4, Luke Gupta5, Jonathan Leeder6, Hugh H Fullagar7, Aaron J Coutts7, Ben J Edwards1, Samuel A Pullinger1,8, Colin M Robertson9, Jatin G Burniston1, Michele Lastella3, Yann Le Meur4, Christophe Hausswirth10, Amy M Bender11, Michael A Grandner12, Charles H Samuels13


Elite athletes are particularly susceptible to sleep inadequacies, characterised by habitual short sleep (<7 hours/night) and poor sleep quality (eg, sleep fragmentation). Athletic performance is reduced by a night or more without sleep, but the influence on performance of partial sleep restriction over 1–3 nights, a more real-world scenario, remains unclear.

Studies investigating sleep in athletes often suffer from inadequate experimental control, a lack of females and questions concerning the validity of the chosen sleep assessment tools. Research only scratches the surface on how sleep influences athlete health.

For example, athlete sleep is influenced by sport-specific factors (relating to training, travel, and competition) and non-sport factors (eg, female gender, stress and anxiety).

The study recommends an individualised approach that should consider the athlete’s perceived sleep needs. Research is needed into the benefits of napping and sleep extension (eg, banking sleep).

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