How Much Sleep Does an Elite Athlete Need?

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
Restricted access

Purchase article

USD  $24.95

Student 1 year online subscription

USD  $112.00

1 year online subscription

USD  $149.00

Student 2 year online subscription

USD  $213.00

2 year online subscription

USD  $284.00

Purpose: Anecdotal reports indicate that many elite athletes are dissatisfied with their sleep, but little is known about their actual sleep requirements. Therefore, the aim of this study was to compare the self-assessed sleep need of elite athletes with an objective measure of their habitual sleep duration. Methods: Participants were 175 elite athletes (n = 30 females), age 22.2 (3.8) years (mean [SD]) from 12 individual and team sports. The athletes answered the question “how many hours of sleep do you need to feel rested?” and they kept a self-report sleep diary and wore a wrist activity monitor for ∼12 nights during a normal phase of training. For each athlete, a sleep deficit index was calculated by subtracting their average sleep duration from their self-assessed sleep need. Results: The athletes needed 8.3 (0.9) hours of sleep to feel rested, their average sleep duration was 6.7 (0.8) hours, and they had a sleep deficit index of 96.0 (60.6) minutes. Only 3% of athletes obtained enough sleep to satisfy their self-assessed sleep need, and 71% of athletes fell short by an hour or more. Specifically, habitual sleep duration was shorter in athletes from individual sports than in athletes from team sports (F1,173 = 13.1, P < .001; d = 0.6, medium), despite their similar sleep need (F1,173 = 1.40, P = .24; d = 0.2, small). Conclusions: The majority of elite athletes obtain substantially less than their self-assessed sleep need. This is a critical finding, given that insufficient sleep may compromise an athlete’s capacity to train effectively and/or compete optimally.

Sargent, Lastella, and Roach are with the Appleton Institute for Behavioural Science, Central Queensland University, Adelaide, SA, Australia. Halson is with the School of Behavioural and Health Sciences, Australian Catholic University, Brisbane, QLD, Australia.

Sargent (charli.sargent@cqu.edu.au) is corresponding author.
  • 1.

    Scharf MT, Naidoo N, Zimmerman JE, Pack A. The energy hypothesis of sleep revisited. Progress Neurobiol. 2008;86(3):264280. doi:

  • 2.

    Vyazovskiy VV, Harris KD. Sleep and the single neuron: the role of global slow oscillations in individual cell rest. Nature Rev Neurosci. 2013;14(6):443451. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 3.

    Krueger JM, Frank MG, Wisor JP, Roy S. Sleep function: toward elucidating an enigma. Sleep Med Rev. 2016;28:4654. PubMed ID: 26447948 doi:

  • 4.

    Banks S, Van Dongen HPA, Maislin G, Dinges DF. Neurobehavioural dynamics following chronic sleep restriction: dose-response effects of one night for recovery. Sleep. 2010;33(8):10131026. PubMed ID: 20815182 doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 5.

    Hirshwkowitz M, Whiton K, Albert SM, et al. National Sleep Foundation’s updated sleep duration recommendations: final report. Sleep Health. 2015;1(1):233243. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 6.

    Lastella M, Roach GD, Halson SL, Sargent C. Sleep/wake behaviours of elite athletes from individual and team sports. Eur J Sport Sci. 2015;15(2):94100. PubMed ID: 24993935 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 7.

    Lastella M, Roach GD, Vincent VE, Scanlan AT, Halson SL, Sargent C. The impact of training load on sleep during a 14-day training camp in elite, adolescent, female basketball players. Int J Sport Physiol Perf. 2020;15(5):724730. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 8.

    Sargent C, Lastella M, Halson SL, Roach GD. The impact of training schedules on the sleep and fatigue of elite athletes. Chronobiol Int. 2014;31(10):11601168. PubMed ID: 25222347 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 9.

    Sargent C, Halson S, Roach GD. Sleep or swim? Early-morning training severely restricts the amount of sleep obtained by elite swimmers. Eur J Sport Sci. 2014;14(suppl 1):S310S315. PubMed ID: 24444223 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 10.

    Swinbourne R, Miller J, Smart D, Dulson DK, Gill N. The effects of sleep extension on sleep, performance, immunity and physical stress in rugby players. Sports. 2018;6(2):42. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 11.

    Caia J, Thornton HR, Kelly VG, et al. Does self-perceived sleep reflect sleep estimated via activity monitors in professional rugby league athletes? J Sports Sci. 2017;36(13):14921496. PubMed ID: 29087784 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 12.

    Leeder J, Glaister M, Pizzoferro K, Dawson J, Pedlar C. Sleep duration and quality in elite athletes measured using wristwatch actigraphy. J Sports Sci. 2012;30(6):541545. PubMed ID: 22329779 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 13.

    O’Donnell S, Driller MW. Sleep-hygiene education improves sleep indices in elite female athletes. Int J Exerc Sci. 2017;10(4):522530. PubMed ID: 28674597

    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 14.

    Van Ryswyk E, Weeks R, Bandick L, et al. A novel sleep optimisation programme to improve athletes’ well-being and performance. Eur J Sport Sci. 2017;17(2):144151. PubMed ID: 27574901 doi:.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 15.

    Belenky G, Wesensten NJ, Thorne DR, et al. Patterns of performance degradation and restoration during sleep restriction and subsequent recovery: a sleep dose-response study. J Sleep Res. 2003;12(1):112. PubMed ID: 12603781 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 16.

    Van Dongen HPA, Maislin G, Mullington JM, Dinges DF. The cumulative cost of additional wakefulness: dose-response effects on neurobehavioural functions and sleep physiology from chronic sleep restriction and total sleep deprivation. Sleep. 2003;26(2):117126. PubMed ID: 12683469 doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 17.

    Van Dongen HPA, Maislin G, Dinges DF. Dealing with inter-individual differences in the temporal dynamics of fatigue and performance: importance and techniques. Aviat Space Environ Med. 2004;75(3):A147A154. PubMed ID: 15018277

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 18.

    Miller DJ, Sargent C, Vincent GE, Roach GD, Halson SL, Lastella M. Sleep/wake behaviours in elite athletes from three different football codes. J Sports Sci Med. 2017;16(4):604605. PubMed ID: 29238263

    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 19.

    Lastella M, Roach GD, Halson SL, Gore CJ, Garvican-Lewis LA, Sargent C. The effects of transmeridian travel and altitude on sleep: preparation for football competition. J Sports Sci Med. 2014;13(3):718720. PubMed ID: 25177205

    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 20.

    Roach GD, Schmidt WF, Aughey RJ, et al. The sleep of elite athletes at sea level and high altitude: a comparison of sea-level natives and high-altitude natives (ISA3600). Brit J Sports Med. 2013;47(suppl 1):i114i120. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 21.

    Kosmadopoulos A, Sargent C, Darwent D, Zhou X, Roach GD. Alternatives to polysomnography (PSG): a validation of wrist actigraphy and a partial-PSG system. Behav Res Methods. 2014;46(4):10321041. PubMed ID: 24442593 doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 22.

    Sargent C, Lastella M, Halson SL, Roach GD. The validity of activity monitors for measuring sleep in elite athletes. J Sci Med Sport. 2016;19(10):848853. PubMed ID: 26794719 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 23.

    Hysing M, Pallesen S, Stormark KM, Lundervold AJ, Sivertsen B. Sleep patterns and insomnia among adolescents: a population-based study. J Sleep Res. 2013;22(5):549556. PubMed ID: 23611716 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 24.

    Roepke SE, Duffy JF. Differential impact of chronotype on weekday and weekend sleep timing and duration. Nat Sci Sleep. 2010;2:213220.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 25.

    Hublin C, Kapiro J, Partinen M, Koskenvuo M. Insufficient sleep—a population based study in adults. Sleep. 2001;24(4):392400. doi:

  • 26.

    Dennis J, Dawson B, Heasman J, Rogalski B, Robey E. Sleep patterns and injury occurrence in elite Australian footballers. J Sci Med Sport. 2016;19(2):113116. PubMed ID: 25770421 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 27.

    Pitchford NW, Robertson SJ, Sargent C, Cordy J, Bishop DJ, Bartlett JD. Sleep quality but not quantity altered with a change in training environment in elite Australian Rules football players. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2017;12(1):7580. PubMed ID: 27080592 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 28.

    Staunton C, Gordon B, Custovic E, Stanger J, Kingsley M. Sleep patterns and match performance in elite Australian basketball athletes. J Sci Med Sport. 2017;20(8):786789. PubMed ID: 28169152 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 29.

    Robey E, Dawson B, Halson S, Gregson W, Goodman C, Eastwood P. Sleep quantity and quality in elite youth soccer players: a pilot study. Eur J Sport Sci. 2014;14(5):410417. doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 30.

    Leduc C, Tee J, Phibbs P, et al. Objective sleep patterns and validity of self-reported sleep monitoring across different playing levels in rugby union. SA J Sports Med. 2020;32(1):16. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 31.

    Coutts AJ, Reaburn P. Monitoring changes in rugby league players’ perceived stress and recovery during intensified training. Percep Motor Skill. 2008;106(3):904916. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 32.

    Killer SC, Svendsen IS, Jeukendrup AE, Gleeson M. Evidence of disturbed sleep and mood state in well-trained athletes during short-term intensified training with and without a high carbohydrate nutritional intervention. J Sports Sci. 2017;35(14):14021410. PubMed ID: 26406911 doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 33.

    Thornton HR, Duthie GM, Pitchford NW, Delaney JA, Benton DT, Dascombe BJ. Effects of a 2-week high-intensity training camp on sleep activity of professional rugby league athletes. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2017;12(7):928933.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 34.

    Lastella M, Roach GD, Halson SL, Sargent C. The chronotype of elite athletes. J Hum Kinet. 2016;54(1):219225. PubMed ID: 28031772 doi:

  • 35.

    Fullagar HHK, Skorski S, Duffield R, Hammes D, Coutts AJ, Meyer T. Sleep and athletic performance: the effects of sleep loss on exercise performance, and physiological and cognitive response to exercise. Sports Med. 2015;45(2):161186. PubMed ID: 25315456 doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 36.

    Mougin F, Bourdin H, Simon-Riguad ML, Didier JM, Toubin G, Kantelip P. Effects of a selective sleep deprivation on subsequent anaerobic performance. Int J Sports Med. 1996;17(02):115119. PubMed ID: 8833713 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 37.

    Martin B. Effect of sleep deprivation on tolerance of prolonged exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol. 1981;47(4):345354. doi:

  • 38.

    Roberts SHS, Teo W-P, Aisbett B, Warmington SA. Extended sleep maintains endurance performance better than normal or restricted sleep. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019;51(12):25162523. PubMed ID: 31246714 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 39.

    Ferrara M, De Gennaro L. How much sleep do we need? Sleep Med Rev. 2001;5(2):155179. doi:

  • 40.

    Romyn G, Lastella M, Miller DJ, Versey NG, Roach GD, Sargent C. Daytime naps can be used to supplement night-time sleep in athletes. Chronobiol Int. 2018;35(6):865868. PubMed ID: 30024323 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 2347 2347 2346
Full Text Views 62 62 62
PDF Downloads 37 37 37