How do elite athletes sleep?


A common question I am often asked is: “How do elite or highly trained athletes sleep compared to the general population?”.

First, let us determine the sleep that the general population requires. According to the Sleep Health Foundation (Australia) and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (USA); the average sleep duration per night should be between 7-9 hrs. However, recent data released from Deloitte Access Economics report that 33% of people do not achieve this recommendation of 7-9 hrs.

In my research with elite combat and contact athletes, I collected a total of 815 nights of sleep-related data consisting of:

  • 75 nights of in-laboratory PSG assessment with 50 nights in a middle-aged community sample and 25 nights in elite rugby union players.
  • 740 nights of field-based sleep measures collected using the Readiband wrist-activity monitors in elite judo and rugby union players.

The sleep durations found was similar between judo athletes (7 hrs 9 mins) and rugby union players (7hrs 12 mins) compared to 7 hrs 31 mins in our community-based sample. This data suggest that our athletes in our research do achieve the required sleep as recommended by the Sleep Health Foundation.

In previous studies in athletic populations, it has been estimated that 88% of athletes do not achieve the 7-9 hrs of sleep per night as recommended by the Sleep Health Foundation. These studies report that athletes average 6 hrs 50 min of sleep per night, with athletes from individual sports achieving slightly less than those from team sports, being 6 hrs 30 min of sleep per night.

In the next post, we will discuss how sleep is compromised in athletes and proven strategies to improve.

*Picture courtesy of the great players from the Western Force….Missed by the fans in Perth, Western Australia.


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