How Much Sleep Does an Athlete Need?

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The search for the perfect night’s rest isn’t just a journey of the sleep-deprived; it’s also a multi-billion dollar business. Everybody has their highs and lows when it comes to energy and alertness throughout the day, but often, our ability to get a healthy amount of sleep is directly related to age and genetics.

The sleep/wake routine that leads many to feel alert and awake in the A.M., but sluggish and lethargic later in the day is tied to our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the body’s natural 24-hour clock, and it continually has the brain cycle between alertness and sleepiness. When the proper amount of sleep is not consistently achieved, it takes far more effort to stay focused and maintain reaction time. On the other hand, a great night of sleep helps to dramatically improve awareness and reaction time, keeping your mind sharper and enhancing overall mental clarity. 

But how much sleep do you really need? 

How Much Sleep Do Athletes Need?

The average adult requires about 7-9 hours of sleep per night. However, lifestyle directly affects the amount of sleep each individual needs. This may lead to an assumption that an elite athlete may require less sleep than the average person, but that is actually inaccurate. Elite athletes are continually stressing their bodies, causing muscle trauma. In turn, this may contribute to the need for an additional 1-2 hours of sleep per night compared to the average person.

Athletes strive to compete at levels where fractions of a second can separate winners from losers. So the addition of 1-2 additional hours of sleep per night for an athlete can help to enhance their mental clarity while also simultaneously increasing their speed and reflexes. 

Athletes can incorporate a number of helpful practices into their routines to assist in achieving increased sleep.

Consistent Schedule Keeping a consistent sleep and wake schedule is essential for peak performance.

Travel Ahead Traveling to a distant location ahead of competition allows the body to adjust naturally to a new environment and reduce the risk of compromised rest. A time-frame from anywhere between a couple of days to a couple of weeks ahead of the event can help to acclimate the body for optimal performance.

Avoid Medications – Prescribed pain medications can negatively interfere with performance. They should be taken only when absolutely needed, and are best to avoid if possible. 

Reduce Stimulants Reducing the use of alcohol or caffeine allows for a deeper, more restful sleep. For athletes specifically, better sleep results in enhanced focus and performance. 

Sleep Environment – Keeping the room you sleep in dark, cool, and quiet can make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep for longer periods of time. The use of an eye mask or earplugs when sleeping in a different environment can also be very helpful.

Athletes and Alternative Medicine

Athletic training creates stress on the body that leads to increased performance, but this consistent and prolonged trauma causes wear and tear on the body, which often leads to injury and pain. The use of anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen is common practice, and they are everyday staples in an athlete’s medicine cabinet. 

Unfortunately, as the demands of professional athletes have continued to grow in accordance with the business of sports, so has the demand to manage the pain of these growing expectations. As a result, athletes have increasingly turned to the use of opioids like morphine, codeine, and oxycontin. While these pharmaceuticals may be successful in symptom management, they come with a high risk of harmful side effects, including dependency and addiction issues and even the possibility of overdose. Elite athletes are meticulous about everything they put in their bodies. It’s one of the many reasons that countless athletes are beginning to turn to natural remedies to help manage the pain and recovery that comes with training. 

In 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) officially removed the use of CBD from their list of prohibited substances. Removing CBD from these lists opened the door for athletes to add this therapeutic natural supplement into their daily routines.

ECS and CBD Working Together

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) in the human body produces cannabinoids. These neurotransmitters attach to receptors as needed throughout the brain and nervous system to regulate digestion, mood, inflammatory responses, and our immune systems in an attempt to keep these systems operating smoothly. The intense training that athletes partake in creates such stress on the body that the ECS often struggles to keep up with reducing it. 

Initial research indicates that the addition of exogenous cannabinoids can assist the human body’s neurotransmitter function by reducing inflammation in the body and brain, allowing for decreased discomfort, mood stabilization, healthy digestion, and maybe most important, enhanced sleep. 

Marijuana and hemp, both of the cannabis plant family, produce hundreds of cannabinoids that mirror the naturally produced compounds found within the human body.  Tetrahydrocannabinol is a cannabinoid extracted from marijuana that has psychoactive properties, whereas CBD is a cannabinoid extract from the hemp plant that has no mind-altering effects. This makes CBD an appealing compound for athletes looking to manage pain and rest naturally. 

Benefits for Athletes Using CBD

Recovery – The use of CBD topical creams and balms can help reduce discomfort throughout the body.

Removing NSAIDs The ability to use CBD throughout the day may eliminate the need for stronger medications that may prove to be potentially harmful or addictive.

Digestion – What many people likely don’t know is that one of the top reasons an athlete drops out of competition is because of gastrointestinal stress. The body’s inflammatory response can also cause trauma to both the small and large intestine, which can lead to a decrease in endurance.

Sleep Quality – One of the best tools for maximizing the effects of athletic training is proper sleep. Incorporating CBD products like tinctures, sprays, and softgels throughout the day can help keep inflammation at bay. In addition, applying these products again before bedtime can increase relaxation and reduce stress, leading to a refreshing night’s sleep.


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