Sleep and Sleep Hygiene for Athletes


Many of the athletes I work with understand how to prepare their mind and body for sport and performance. However, I often find that we ALSO need to help our mind and body prepare for sleep and rest. Rest is often not prioritized in our society and sport culture. We live in a society that emphasizes “go go go”, more is better and if you aren’t doing something you aren’t being productive enough. This isn’t conducive to good quality sleep and non-sleep rest. We need to help athletes understand that sleep and non-sleep rest are a biological imperative for our overall health and well-being. Overall health and well-being are a precursor to athletic performance. When we DON’T get consistent adequate sleep and non-sleep rest, this can impact our mind and body in profound ways.


How does sleep/non sleep rest help an athlete?

  • Restore our mind- body resources that we use and expend throughout the day
  • Helps us consolidate learning and memory
  • Supports nervous system regulation and helps our nervous system shift in to a more parasympathetic state (which is needed for recovery and well being!)
  • Supports an athletes muscle recovery
  • Supports and boosts immune function, which is critical for overall well being and helps us be less susceptible to illness
  • Supports ALL other bodily systems like digestion, endocrine and lymphatic system
  • Helps all cognitive functioning so that we can think clearly, process information and communicate with others
  • Plays a critical role in helping us navigate our emotions and stress response


How much sleep does an athlete need?

It depends. We know that sleep is one of the most beneficial things an athlete can provide their mind and body with. Generally, the more sleep the better. We also know that elite athletes tend to live very hectic and stressful lives. Nine + hours of sleep per night might not actually be possible. Ideally, athletes are getting somewhere between  7-9 hours of sleep.  Both sleep hygiene and non-sleep rest can help an athlete prioritize and get adequate rest for overall health and athlete performance.


Shift perspective on sleep and rest

First, we often need to help athlete’s get rid of any guilt or shame around sleeping. I constantly emphasize with my athletes that rest is not earned. Rest and sleep are a given.

Give yourself permission to explore how you feel when you’re tired and how you feel when you’re well-rested. Take note of the differences and start to listen to your body’s cues. When you feel tired, prioritize your sleep needs. Gently remind yourself when you feel any guilt or shame around sleep or rest that it IS the most productive and effective thing you can give your mind and body.


What is sleep hygiene

I refer to sleep hygiene holistically as the habits, routines and practices we put in place and implement in and around sleep. This also includes our actual sleep environment. Here are some things to assess around our sleep hygiene to set ourselves up for success in and around sleep.

  • Sleep Environment
    • Assess the space you sleep in. Ideally you want your bedroom to be a space or environment that helps you feel safe, relaxed and calm. Generally we sleep better when our spaces are darker, cooler and quiet.  Think about the changes or adjustments you might need to make in order to set up your sleep environment in a way that helps support you to sleep well.
  • Sleep schedule and Pre Bed Routine
    • Think about the time you wake up and go to bed. Ideally you want a consistent schedule with both your wake up and sleep time. This is also going to be based on how much sleep you feel like you need to function at your best. Your bed time will then determine how you implement your pre bed routine. Our pre bed routine is all about the practices and routines that help our mind body system slow down, relax and ease in to rest. This will be completely unique and individual. I personally needs roughly 45 minutes to an hour to help my body relax and wind down while some of my athletes only need about 10 minutes. This may take time to explore and figure out a routine that works best for you.
  • Pre bed practice ideas:
    • Self care like face washing, facial, putting lotion on
    • Using candles and essential oils
    • Restorative posture
    • Slow mindful movement like slow yoga followed by restorative postures or savasana.
    • Playing calming, slow music (make a sleep playlist)
    • Meditation or yoga nidra
    • Breath work
    • Foam rolling or Myofascial release
    • Slowing down and pausing throughout our day
    • Hot shower or bath with epsolm salt
    • Reading or listening to soothing podcasts


Non sleep rest

Non sleep rest is allowing our mind body system to gain rest outside of sleep. Any of the above pre bed practices could also be considered non sleep rest.  This is something that many of my athletes really struggle with. I encourage all my athletes to find little moments throughout their day and week where they can add in shorter practices that give their mind-body opportunities for rest. A go to and favorite for many of my athletes is legs up the wall!

 **please note: many of us love to Netflix and chill. All though watching tv and lying around on the couch is not BAD and it 100% is needed it doesn’t always count as “rest” for our mind body system. The reason being is that our mind isn’t really resting when we are engaging in technology.. even tv.

Other ideas:

-Various forms of yoga like yin

-Slow mindful walk

-lounging on the couch with a friend or someone who feels safe and connected

-Taking time to do arts and crafts






Better Sleep App

The Sleepy Bookshelf – Podcast

Emily Perrins Youtube – sleep practices and meditation


Studies on Sleep and Athletes

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

 Vitale, K. C., Owens, R., Hopkins, S. R., & Malhotra, A. (2019). Sleep hygiene for optimizing recovery in athletes: Review and recommendations. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 40(8), 535–543.