The impact of training schedules on the sleep and fatigue of elite athletes

Chronobiol Int. 2014 Dec;31(10):1160-8. doi: 10.3109/07420528.2014.957306. Epub 2014 Sep 15.


In any sport, successful performance requires a planned approach to training and recovery. While sleep is recognized as an essential component of this approach, the amount and quality of sleep routinely obtained by elite athletes has not been systematically evaluated. Data were collected from 70 nationally ranked athletes from seven different sports. Athletes wore wrist activity monitors and completed self-report sleep/training diaries for 2 weeks during normal training. The athletes also recorded their fatigue level prior to each training session using a 7-point scale. On average, the athletes spent 08:18 ± 01:12 h in bed, fell asleep at 23:06 ± 01:12 h, woke at 6:48 ± 01:30 h and obtained 06:30 ± 01:24 h of sleep per night. There was a marked difference in the athletes' sleep/wake behaviour on training days and rest days. Linear mixed model analyses revealed that on nights prior to training days, time spent in bed was significantly shorter (p = 0.001), sleep onset and offset times were significantly earlier (p < 0.001) and the amount of sleep obtained was significantly less (p = 0.001), than on nights prior to rest days. Moreover, there was a significant effect of sleep duration on pre-training fatigue levels (p ≤ 0.01). Specifically, shorter sleep durations were associated with higher levels of pre-training fatigue. Taken together, these findings suggest that the amount of sleep an elite athlete obtains is dictated by their training schedule. In particular, early morning starts reduce sleep duration and increase pre-training fatigue levels. When designing schedules, coaches should be aware of the implications of the timing of training sessions for sleep and fatigue. In cases where early morning starts are unavoidable, countermeasures for minimizing sleep loss - such as strategic napping during the day and correct sleep hygiene practices at night - should be considered.

Keywords: Activity monitors; fatigue; sleep duration; sport; training schedules.

MeSH terms

  • Actigraphy
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Athletes*
  • Athletic Performance / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Fatigue / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity
  • Sleep*
  • Young Adult