From pillow to podium: a review on understanding sleep for elite athletes Academic Article uri icon


  • Sleep is considered vital to human health and well-being, and is critical to physiological and cognitive functioning. Elite athletes experience high training and competition demands, and are often exposed to various factors, situations, and environments that can cause sleep impairments. Previous research has shown that athletes commonly experience sleep loss in the lead up to and following competition, which could have significant impacts on their preparation, performance, and recovery. In particular, the results from previous research show significant reductions in total sleep time (~1:40 h:min) and significant increases in sleep latency (~45 minutes) following evening competition. Napping is common in both the training and competition setting in athletes; however, research on the effect of napping on physiology and performance is limited. In contrast, research on strategies and interventions to improve sleep are increasing in the athletic population, with sleep hygiene research resulting in significant improvements in key sleep indices. This review investigates the physiological importance of sleep in athletes, current tools to monitor athletes' sleep, the role of sleep for cognitive functioning and athletic performance, the prevalence of sleep disturbances and the potential mechanisms causing sleep disturbances, the role of napping, and different intervention strategies to improve sleep.

publication date

  • 2018