Walsh NP, Halson SL, Sargent C, et al

Sleep and the athlete: narrative review and 2021 expert consensus recommendations

British Journal of Sports Medicine Published Online First: 03 November 2020. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2020-102025


Elite athletes are particularly susceptible to sleep inadequacies, characterised by habitual short sleep (<7 hours/night) and poor sleep quality (eg, sleep fragmentation). Athletic performance is reduced by a night or more without sleep, but the influence on performance of partial sleep restriction over 1–3 nights, a more real-world scenario, remains unclear. Studies investigating sleep in athletes often suffer from inadequate experimental control, a lack of females and questions concerning the validity of the chosen sleep assessment tools. Research only scratches the surface on how sleep influences athlete health. Studies in the wider population show that habitually sleeping <7 hours/night increases susceptibility to respiratory infection. Fortunately, much is known about the salient risk factors for sleep inadequacy in athletes, enabling targeted interventions. For example, athlete sleep is influenced by sport-specific factors (relating to training, travel and competition) and non-sport factors (eg, female gender, stress and anxiety). This expert consensus culminates with a sleep toolbox for practitioners (eg, covering sleep education and screening) to mitigate these risk factors and optimise athlete sleep. A one-size-fits-all approach to athlete sleep recommendations (eg, 7–9 hours/night) is unlikely ideal for health and performance. We recommend an individualised approach that should consider the athlete’s perceived sleep needs. Research is needed into the benefits of napping and sleep extension (eg, banking sleep).