The research is in — poor sleep habits lead to worse performance, while good sleep can mean improved performance.

My own deep dive into this subject started years ago. 

Coming off back-to-back appearances in the NCAA men’s basketball championship game, the 2011–12 Butler University team was on a west coast trip. While in Palo Alto to play Stanford in late December, youthful coach Brad Stevens called me to find out if I knew Stanford sleep researcher Dr. Sheri Mah. 

I was already aware of her sleep research and athlete performance findings, which sparked an enthusiastic and lengthy discussion on how we could transform her research into actionable steps Stevens’ team.

I’m pleased to share what we came up with. Once you understand how sleep is a factor of athlete performance, you can take steps to ensure the health of your players.

The Connection 

The sports performance community has become increasingly aware of the relationship between sleep deprivation and diminished academic and athletic performance.

Researchers have provided validation that student-athletes who sleep poorly are:

  • Prone to health issues
  • Have higher rates of stress and depression
  • More likely to use over-the-counter stimulant medications to remain awake
  • More likely to use alcohol to promote sleep

Now for the good news: research also has proven longer sleep is correlated with improved mood and academic performance. 

According to the CDC, this is the recommended amount of sleep people should get. 

  • 6–12 years old: 9–12 hours every 24 hours (naps count)
  • 13–18 years old: 8–10 hours every 24 hours (naps count)
  • 18–60 years old: 7 or more hours per night

Recommended Steps 

You can support new habits towards high quality sleep by encouraging your athletes (and your staff) to follow these guidelines.

Before going to sleep:

  • Create a habitual pre-sleep routine.
  • Set consistent times to be in bed and when to wake up.
  • Limit caffeine, alcohol and screen time for at least 90 minutes beforehand.
  • Don’t try to sleep hungry or immediately after a large meal.

While sleeping:

  • Avoid looking at blue light (i.e., device screens) during the night.
  • Keep your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible.
  • Set thermostat to 62–68 degrees.
  • Use comfortable bedding.
  • Encourage bright, full spectrum light upon waking.


  • Use your bedroom for sleep and relations only.
  • Avoid reading, studying or watching TV while in bed.