4 Side Effects of Low-Quality Sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is hard to do. There is often something in your way something — you could be wrapping up a presentation for work, studying for a grad school final, your kids don’t want to go to bed (seriously they have seen Frozen too many times, they know the ending), or perhaps you are suffering from nighttime anxiety. We get it, life happens. Despite all of this, there are ways you can improve your sleep habits. In this piece, we’ll look at what happens when you don’t get sufficient high-quality slumber and what you can do to fix it.

1) Diminished Performance

When a research team at Loughborough University in England assessed 37 peer-reviewed studies, they found that up to half of athletes – including Olympians, Paralympians, and professional team sports competitors – are getting too little sleep [i]. Reasons include travel, late practices and games, and performance anxiety.

Even a single night of poor sleep can impact your physical performance. According to a study in the Journal of Sports Sciences, participants who hadn’t slept well saw a 4.1% dip in aerobic output and 5.2% reduction in jump height [ii]. Sleep deprivation can also impact the expression of motor skills that require accuracy. A paper published in the journal Sleep found that when college basketball players were well rested, their free throw percentage was 9% higher and three-point accuracy went up 6% versus when they were tired. They also sprinted faster [iii].  

2) Increased Injury Risk

It might seem unrealistic to suggest that you avoid training when you’re sleep deprived, as champions know that feeling good is overrated and some days, you have to go and grit out a run, lifting session, or ride. Yet statistics suggest that if you are feeling sleepy, you should try to be a little more cautious and cognizant of what you’re doing than normal, as you have a higher chance of getting hurt.

A 21-month study released via the Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics found that young athletes who got less than eight hours of sleep were 1.7 times more likely to be injured [iv]. When their sleep total slipped to under six hours, the odds of an incident skyrocketed still further to a four-fold increase. While the risk factors might not be quite as high in adults, it’s likely that injury risk is still greater after low-

3) Incomplete Recovery

One of the primary functions of sleep in the human body is to facilitate recovery and prompt adaptation to the stressors introduced during training. Athletes who get sufficient high-quality sleep are more likely to learn new skills and improve existing ones, build and repair muscle tissue, and allow their nervous system to return to a normal, relaxed state. In contrast, if you’re consistently short-changing your sleep, it’s likely that you’re under-recovering.

To test this theory, a British research duo evaluated sleep-deprived athletes’ weight room performance. Over the course of four successive days, their ability in a maximum effort and multi-rep sets in both lower and upper body exercises declined, with each night of inadequate sleep further impacting recovery [v]. And if you’re an endurance athlete, the Australian Institute of Sport found that your ability to bounce back between distance training sessions might be even more compromised [vi].

4) Compromised Cognition and Disrupted Mood

In reviewing the existing literature, a team of Swiss and Australian researchers concluded that, “when sleep is reduced to less than seven hours in healthy adults, cognitive performance is poorer in tests for alertness, reaction time, memory, and decision making”[vii]. This can obviously impact how well you play your sport of choice, as well as limiting how you fare on your next work project or on that important Zoom call with your boss.

The weightlifters mentioned earlier didn’t just post lower numbers in strength tests when they were sleep deprived – they also experienced more mood fluctuations. The researchers noticed that their subjects felt more confused, less vigorous, and more fatigued while struggling through a workout on too little sleep.

How to Sort Out Your Sleep

Now that we’ve shared some of the problems that low-quality sleep can cause, let’s start trying to remedy them. Some proven tactics from experts like Chris Winter, who helps pro sports teams and Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep, include making your sleep and wake times more consistent, sleeping in a cool, dark room without tech devices, avoiding late afternoon and evening caffeine, and limiting alcohol intake. If you’re still struggling to fall and stay asleep, try supplementing nightly with a product like Momentous Elite Sleep, which contains three ingredients (Magtein®️, melatonin, and wild-harvested jujube seeds) proven to promote restful sleep.

[i] Luke Gupta, Kevin Morgan, and Sarah Gilchrist, “Does Elite Sport Degrade Sleep Quality? A Systematic Review,” Sports Medicine, November 29, 2016, available online at https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-016-0650-6.

[ii] Tom Cullen et al, “The Effects of a Single Night of Complete and Partial Sleep Deprivation on Physical and Cognitive Performance: A Bayesian Analysis,” Journal of Sports Sciences, December 2019, available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31608829/.

[iii] Cheri D. Mah et al, “The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players,” Sleep, July 1, 2011, available online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3119836/.

[iv] Matthew D. Milewski et al, “Chronic Lack of Sleep is Associated with Increased Sports Injuries in Adolescent Athletes,” Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics, available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25028798/.

[v] T Reilly and M Piercy, “The Effect of Partial Sleep Deprivation on Weight-Lifting Performance,” Ergonomics, January 1994, available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8112265/.

[vi] Shona L. Halson, “Sleep and the Elite Athlete,” Gatorade Sports Science Institute, May 2013, available online at https://secure.footprint.net/gatorade/stg/gssiweb/pdf/113_Halson_SSE.pdf.

[vii] Hugh Fullagar et al, “Sleep and Athletic Performance: The Effects of Sleep Loss on Exercise Performance, and Physiological and Cognitive Responses to Exercise,” Sports Medicine, October 2014, available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25315456/.

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