Why Sleep is a Game-Changer for Young Athletes’ Success

Written by: Abhishek Behl (Accredited Exercise Scientist)

In sports, where every millisecond counts, young athletes constantly seek ways to improve their performance. Amid rigorous training and advanced nutrition plans, sleep often gets overlooked and disregarded as an important contributing factor to an Athletes overall sporting performance.

Sleep significantly impacts physical recovery (from training and game day matches) and has an important impact on cognitive function. Optimal cognitive function is a vital predictor of sporting success; and as such must be considered in your overall programming and lifestyle variables.


Here is why sleep is essential for young athletes and the consequences of inadequate sleep:

Physical Recovery and Muscle Growth

Sleep is when the body undergoes repair and restoration. During deep sleep stages, the body releases growth hormones essential for muscle repair and growth. Mah et al. (2011) found that adequate sleep enhances muscle recovery, allowing athletes to train harder and more effectively. Insufficient sleep, conversely, can lead to prolonged muscle soreness and a higher risk of injuries.

Injury Prevention

Avoiding injuries is vital for athletic performance. Sleep helps maintain coordination, balance, and reaction times, which are crucial for injury prevention. Milewski et al. (2014) found that athletes who sleep fewer than eight hours per night are 1.7 times more likely to sustain an injury than those who sleep for eight or more hours. Prioritising sleep can thus be a simple and effective strategy to reduce injury risk.

Cognitive Function and Mental Health

The benefits of sleep extend to mental and emotional well-being. Adequate sleep enhances focus, concentration, and decision-making. These cognitive skills are crucial for athletes who need to process information quickly and make split-second decisions during competitions. Walker (2009) highlighted that sleep facilitates the consolidation of memories and skills learned during the day, improving an athlete’s ability to retain and refine techniques.

Sleep deprivation can also lead to mood disturbances, increased stress, and anxiety. For young athletes balancing academic and sporting commitments, managing stress and maintaining a positive mental state is vital. Lack of sleep can exacerbate frustration and burnout, negatively impacting overall performance and motivation (Dinges et al., 1997).

Optimising Overall Performance

Research shows a direct correlation between sleep and athletic performance. Well-rested athletes tend to have better endurance, strength, and overall performance. Mah et al. (2011) found that extended sleep improved sprint times, shooting accuracy, and overall physical performance in college athletes. These findings reinforce the importance of sleep as a natural and accessible performance-enhancing tool.

The Consequences of Inadequate Sleep

Inadequate sleep can severely impact young athletes. Fatigue from poor sleep leads to decreased energy levels, making training sessions challenging. Sleep deprivation also impairs reaction times, crucial in sports requiring quick reflexes. Fullagar et al. (2015) found that sleep loss adversely affects cognitive and motor functions, negatively impacting athletic performance. Having a quality also allows for better mood and feeling less fatigued.

Moreover, inadequate sleep disrupts metabolic functions. Hormones regulating hunger and stress, such as ghrelin, leptin, and cortisol, are affected by sleep patterns. Disruptions in these hormones can lead to increased appetite and poor stress management, ultimately affecting nutritional balance and stress levels (Taheri et al., 2004).

To maximise the benefits of sleep, young athletes should adopt good sleep hygiene habits:

  • Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Maintain regular sleep and wake times, even on weekends, to regulate the body’s internal clock.
  • Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment: Ensure the bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows.
  • Limit Screen Time: Avoid electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime as blue light interferes with melatonin production.
  • Develop a Pre-Sleep Routine: Engage in relaxing activities such as reading or taking a warm bath to signal the body to wind down.
  • Monitor Sleep Patterns: Use sleep tracking tools or apps to monitor sleep quality and duration, making adjustments as necessary.

For young athletes, sleep is a crucial part of training. It facilitates physical recovery, enhances cognitive functions, and boosts performance.

Neglecting sleep can lead to increased injury risk, impaired cognitive function, and diminished performance. By prioritising sleep and adopting good sleep hygiene practices, young athletes can ensure they perform at their best, both on and off the field. So please speak to one of our friendly practitioners at Inspire Fitness and Exercise Physiology and we can help set you up for success.


Dinges, D.F., Pack, F., Williams, K., Gillen, K.A., Powell, J.W., Ott, G.E., Aptowicz, C. and Pack, A.I., 1997. Cumulative sleepiness, mood disturbance, and psychomotor vigilance performance decrements during a week of sleep restricted to 4-5 hours per night. Sleep, 20(4), pp.267-277.

Fullagar, H.H., Skorski, S., Duffield, R., Hammes, D., Coutts, A.J. and Meyer, T., 2015. Sleep and athletic performance: the effects of sleep loss on exercise performance, and physiological and cognitive responses to exercise. Sports Medicine, 45(2), pp.161-186.

Mah, C.D., Mah, K.E., Kezirian, E.J. and Dement, W.C., 2011. The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. Sleep, 34(7), pp.943-950.

Milewski, M.D., Skaggs, D.L., Bishop, G.A., Pace, J.L., Ibrahim, D.A., Wren, T.A. and Barzdukas, A., 2014. Chronic lack of sleep is associated with increased sports injuries in adolescent athletes. Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics, 34(2), pp.129-133.

Taheri, S., Lin, L., Austin, D., Young, T. and Mignot, E., 2004. Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. PLoS Medicine, 1(3), p.e62.

Walker, M.P., 2009. The role of sleep in cognition and emotion. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1156(1), pp.168-197.