Understanding sleep disturbance in athletes prior to important competitions

J Sci Med Sport. 2015 Jan;18(1):13-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2014.02.007. Epub 2014 Feb 13.


Objectives: Anecdotally many athletes report worse sleep in the nights prior to important competitions. Despite sleep being acknowledged as an important factor for optimal athletic performance and overall health, little is understood about athlete sleep around competition. The aims of this study were to identify sleep complaints of athletes prior to competitions and determine whether complaints were confined to competition periods.

Design: Cross-sectional study.

Methods: A sample of 283 elite Australian athletes (129 male, 157 female, age 24±5 y) completed two questionnaires; Competitive Sport and Sleep questionnaire and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index.

Results: 64.0% of athletes indicated worse sleep on at least one occasion in the nights prior to an important competition over the past 12 months. The main sleep problem specified by athletes was problems falling asleep (82.1%) with the main reasons responsible for poor sleep indicated as thoughts about the competition (83.5%) and nervousness (43.8%). Overall 59.1% of team sport athletes reported having no strategy to overcome poor sleep compared with individual athletes (32.7%, p=0.002) who utilised relaxation and reading as strategies. Individual sport athletes had increased likelihood of poor sleep as they aged. The poor sleep reported by athletes prior to competition was situational rather than a global sleep problem.

Conclusion: Poor sleep is common prior to major competitions in Australian athletes, yet most athletes are unaware of strategies to overcome the poor sleep experienced. It is essential coaches and scientists monitor and educate both individual and team sport athletes to facilitate sleep prior to important competitions.

Keywords: Sleep complaints; Sleep strategies.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Athletes / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dyssomnias / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sleep*
  • Sports / classification
  • Sports / physiology
  • Sports / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thinking
  • Young Adult