Sleep Guidelines for Athletes | STACK Fitness

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18 Rules for Better Sleep

February 12, 2013 | Z Altug

Athlete Sleeping

Sleep helps you perform better during games or competitions, recover faster from training sessions, and according to a Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine study, can even help prevent injuries. But sleep isn't just good for your body, it helps the mind too, according to a 2003 study by the University of Michigan. The following guidelines will help you fall asleep and stay asleep.

Rule #1 Establish regular bedtime and waking hours by going to bed at a relatively consistent time and getting up at about the same time to help synchronize your body clock.

Rule #2 Make sure your room is dark, quiet and cool.

Rule #3 Make sure your bed, blankets, sheets and pillows are comfortable.

Rule #4 Turn your alarm clock so it does not face your bed. Time pressure may contribute to poor sleep. In other words, don't watch your clock all night.

Rule #5 For at least an hour before bedtime, avoid activities such as watching a movie or reading a book that is depressing or has intense material, playing competitive games or listening to intense music.

Rule #6 Avoid computer use before sleep. A study showed that Internet use between 7:00 p.m. and midnight increases the risk of poor sleep among young adults.

Rule #7 Turn off the radio and television before you go to sleep since this may disrupt your sleep.

Rule #8 If you are having difficulty sleeping, engage in relaxing activities 20 to 30 minutes before sleep. Try gentle yoga, diaphragmatic breathing and progressive relaxation techniques or meditation.

Rule #9 Get enough regular exercise in the afternoon or early evening, but avoid it close to bedtime. The key may be the intensity. Avoid strenuous exercise within two to six hours of your bedtime. An easy walk, stretching and gentle yoga or tai chi may be fine for most individuals. Intense exercise close to bedtime acts as a stimulant and may prevent you from getting a good night's sleep. One study found that vigorous late-night exercise (on a stationary bicycle) did not disturb sleep in young and fit individuals without sleep disorders; however, sleep researchers typically recommend most people should avoid intense physical activity close to bedtime.

Rule #10 Increase your exposure to outdoor bright light during the day (especially in the morning upon awakening), and avoid bright light exposure during the night before sleep (including laptops, computers, smart phones and other artificial bright lights). In general, early bright light sun exposure is helpful in synchronizing your body clock and helping to awaken you in the morning. The best source of bright light is sunlight. If you can't get outdoors early in the morning, have your breakfast near a window, on your balcony, porch or patio.

Rule #11 If you typically have a hard time falling asleep, do not use your bed to watch television, read, write, eat, talk on the telephone, use your laptop or play board games.

Rule #12 Consider avoiding daytime naps if you have difficulty sleeping at night. If you are unsure about napping during the day, discuss it with your doctor.

Rule #13 Avoid foods such as aged cheeses, spices, smoked meats, and ginseng tea near bedtime since they may keep you awake.

Rule #14 Avoid caffeine (such as coffee, tea, chocolate, sodas, and colas) close to bedtime (especially four to six hours before sleep) since they are stimulants and may disturb sleep. The effects of caffeine can remain in the body an average of 3 to 5 hours.

Rule #15 Avoid smoking and other tobacco products. Nicotine is a stimulant that disturbs sleep and should be avoided altogether for health reasons.

Rule #16 Avoid alcohol within six hours of your bedtime since it fragments sleep.

Rule #17 Avoid late and heavy meals within three hours of bedtime. The key is not to go to bed hungry or too full.

Rule #18 Avoid excess consumption of fluids within two hours of bedtime. This can help prevent frequent bathroom trips at night.

For additional sleep guidelines, check out the following websites and STACK articles:


  • Ancoli-Israel S, Cooke JR. Prevalence and comorbidity of insomnia and effect on functioning in elderly populations. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2005;53(7 Suppl):S264-71.
  • Ancoli-Israel S. All I Want Is A Good Night's Sleep. St. Louis, MO: Mosby-Yearbook, 1996.
  • Attarian HP. Sleep Disorders in Women: A Guide to Practical Management. Totowa, New Jersey: Humana Press, 2006.
  • Gooneratne NS, Tavaria A, Patel N, et al. Perceived effectiveness of diverse sleep treatments in older adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2011;59(2):297-303.
  • Kryger MH, Roth T, Dement WC. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine, 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier/Saunders, 2005.
  • Luke A, Lazaro RM, Bergeron MF, et al. Sports-related injuries in youth athletes: is overscheduling a risk factor? Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. 2011;21(4):307-314.
  • Mesquita G, Reimao R. Quality of sleep among university students: effects of nighttime computer and television use. Arquivos de Neuro-Psiquiatria. 2010;68(5):720-725.
  • Myllymäki T, Kyröläinen H, Savolainen K, et al. Effects of vigorous late-night exercise on sleep quality and cardiac autonomic activity. Journal of Sleep Research. 2011; 20(1 Pt 2):146-153.
  • Williams DA, Carey M. University of Michigan Health System Sleep Hygiene, 2003. Accessed February 6, 2013.
Z Altug
- Z Altug, PT, MS, CSCS, NSCA-PT, is a licensed physical therapist and athletic performance specialist out of Los Angeles. He co-authored the 2012 Healthy Lifestyle...
Z Altug
- Z Altug, PT, MS, CSCS, NSCA-PT, is a licensed physical therapist and athletic performance specialist out of Los Angeles. He co-authored the 2012 Healthy Lifestyle...
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