The Link Between Sleep Deprivation and Injuries

Sleep deprivation can affect athletes in a number of ways, including reaction time, attention, focus, recovery, and overall performance. But the most serious of these is the potential for injury.

When you’re sleep deprived, you’re not at the top of your game. Your mind and body aren’t able to fully focus on your athletic performance, and as a result, you are at a greater risk of injuries.

Why Sleep Deprivation Means a Greater Injury Risk for Athletes

In a 2014 study from the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, adolescent athletes who played a game while sleep deprived were almost twice as likely to experience an injury as the athletes who got adequate sleep the night before. Why exactly does this happen?

When you’re fatigued, your reaction times suffer. That means you’re less quick to respond, and less safe from injury. And with a lack of sleep, you have increased fatigue and less muscle recovery, so your body can’t bounce back as easily from training or athletic performance.

On top of that, being fatigued weakens your immune system, so you’re more prone to illness when training and performance can suffer. And overall, when you have a chronic lack of sleep, your body has less time to recover and be prepared for activity, so you’re more prone to injury over time.

Additional Sleep Deprivation Effects for Athletes

While injury is a serious consideration for sleep deprivation, there are other negative effects that can also be a problem for athletic performance.

  • Reduced reaction time
  • Slower athletic recovery
  • Poor mental focus
  • Impaired mood and difficulty keeping your head in the game
  • Higher stress levels
  • Lowered judgement and accuracy
  • Lower energy and endurance

Are You Sleeping Enough?

If you’re struggling with athletic performance or even seem to be injury prone, consider the problem could be sleep. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Consider that a baseline, as athletes can need even more.

When you’re going through intense training or performance, you likely need more sleep. In general, athletes could need 10 or more hours of sleep each night during especially intense training or performance.

Not everyone has a 10 hour chunk of time to sleep each night, though. So you can make up the time with 20 to 30 minute daytime naps if you need to. Just keep in mind that they should be brief, and generally not after about 3 p.m., or they may interfere with nighttime sleep.

Sleep Tips for Athletic Performance and Reduced Injury Risk

Want to perform better and give yourself the best chance to avoid injury? Sleep well. Use these tips to get the best sleep you can each night, whether you’re training or not.

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule and bedtime routine.
  • Make your bedroom comfortable for sleep, keeping it cool, dark, quiet, and comfortable.
  • Give yourself enough time to sleep, and schedule naps if needed.
  • Don’t let training times interfere with sleep time.
  • Avoid sleep pitfalls, such as caffeine too late in the day, or drinking excessive alcohol before bed.
  • Avoid exercising too late in the day, as this can make it difficult to sleep well.
  • Get treatment for sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea.

Training is important, but so is sleep. Don’t skim out on getting the rest you need each night, or you could increase your risk of injury and end up on the sidelines. Get enough rest and you can improve your athletic performance and protect yourself from injury.


Amy Highland is a sleep expert at She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.