Sleep, the key in athletes´ recovery and training adaptationSports physiologists and sports medicine practitioners working with highly trained athletes often hear them complain about difficulties to fall asleep or insufficent sleep quantity and/or quality. This is a major issue, as insufficent sleep will have a negative impact on recovery from training and will therefore hinder training adaptation and competition performance. Sleep is without a doubt the most important recovery strategy for athletes, and those with poor sleep habits may be at increased risk of overreaching and overtraining. A lot of athletes request our advice to enhance their sleep.

Fortunately for those of us who are not “sleep experts”, we can always rely on the advice provided by other colleagues who are themselves true experts. Such is the case of my good friend Dr. Shona Halson, Head of Performance Recovery at the Australian Institute of Sport. Three years ago Shona published a review article on nutrition, sleep and recovery, in which she provided some practical tips to promote athletes’ sleep quantity and/or quantity. I reproduce those practical tips here, hoping that you will soon fall asleep!

  • Ensure appropriate recovery (physical, nutritional and psychological) from training and competition.
  • Consume tryptophan containing foods such as milk, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, peanuts, cheese and leafy green vegetables.
  • Consume a high glycemic index meal 4 hours before bedtime.
  • Consume a balanced, healthy diet.
  • Minimise alcohol intake prior to bedtime.
  • Minimise caffeine intake prior to bedtime (individual tolerances do exist).
  • Be cautious of fluid intake following completion of training/competition and bedtime. For athletes who are repeatedly waking at night to use the bathroom, hydration testing and fluid balance assessment may be useful to prescribe type and quantity of fluid both during the day and during the recovery period.
  • Skin warming (in cool environmental conditions)- this can be achieved through prior warm baths/ spa baths, hot footbaths, warm blankets and wearing of socks.
  • Skin cooling (in warm environmental conditions)- this can be achieved through cool showers, the appropriate use of airconditioning.
  • Sleep hygiene- the following sleep hygiene strategies are commonly recommended:
    • If you cannot sleep within 15 minutes, get out of bed and try another strategy.
    • Eliminate the bedroom clock.
    • Avoid coffee, alcohol and nicotine.
    • Regularise the bedtime.
    • Be conscious of food and fluid intake.
    • Nap appropriately (for no more than 45 minutes and not late in the afternoon).
  • Explore the use of muscle relaxation and cognitive relaxation


Halson, S. L. Nutrition, sleep and recovery. European Journal of Sport Science. 8 (2): 119, 126, 2008

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