Sleeping for Performance

By Martin Rawls-Meehan

In Rest Day/Theory

June 06, 2012

PDF Article

How much does sleep affect your athletic performance? Martin Rawls-Meehan explains the science behind getting enough rest.

How much do you think about how well you sleep? How important do you think sleep is to your CrossFit performance? What about your general health?

If you’re like most, you probably don’t think much about how well you sleep. All know they feel better when they sleep more, so you probably want to sleep well and are upset when you don’t sleep as much as you want.

But getting good sleep is more than just sleeping more, and it does a whole lot more for you than make you feel a little better during the day. Good sleep is one of the most important elements of health maintenance, as well as athletic performance and improvement.

Like the science of nutrition and exercise, sleep science has been undergoing a revolution over the last few decades. Researchers are now beginning to understand how sleep impacts our performance over the short term and long term.

Just how much can sleep impact you as an athlete?

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14 Comments on “Sleeping for Performance”


DAN DIRKX wrote …

This is good stuff. Well written and valuable info I will pass along.... Thank you


wrote …

Sleep is one of those things that seems to allude me every time I think I'm gonna catch some quality Zs. My situation got even worse when I got my level-1 cert and started coaching the 0530 (am) class. That's just the tip of the iceberg...I've got a lot of work to do to get my sleep where it needs to be... Thanks for the great info!!


Eris Collins wrote …

I got a nasty case of adrenal fatigue doing 4+ crossfit workouts/week and sleeping 7 hours (or less a night). After being essentially incapacitated by malaise for a week, I decided I needed to a) stop overtraining and b) start sleeping "for recovery", meaning at least 9 hours on a training day and 7-8 hours on a rest day.
I feel 100x better. I've hit more strength gains since starting to get better sleep and only training 3 x week than I had when I was overtraining.
[Quality] Sleep is critical!


wrote …

So the guy selling 'sleep systems' is reporting the "science" of how important sleep is??

Why not adapt or more 'paleo' approach to sleeping. Find something to lie on in a dark room and close your eyes. Yea, most people could likely sleep longer, but the science (and advice) is flimsy, and impractical.

Besides coffee is delicious at all times. And not drinking alcohol three hours before bed? That's the prime time!


wrote …

Who in the world can get 10 hours of sleep a night? Even when I've had the time to try that never works out. If I do manage to sleep 10 hours it'll cause me to not sleep the next night.


wrote …

I, like many other crossfitters, are in law enforcement and work swing shifts. This article depicts ideal sleep habits that normal people, much less those who work swing shifts, cannot follow. I haven't found an answer to when the ideal time is to train when working swing shifts or what sleep patterns are the best. I would be very interested in any suggestions regarding this delima. In retrospect, how many of us use "ideal" form at the end of a long WOD? Not many I presume. Yet having the knowledge of perfect form is still extremely valuable. The same as the knowledge of sleeping to perform. Great article. Sure i'll use it in the future.


I am in law enforcement as well, and I actually start my shift at 4:00 AM (10 hour shifts). That means wake up at 3:00 AM. At the beginning of shift we are allowed to spend an hour for PT, so at 3:45ish AM I am in the bay area where our Crossfit equipment is working out. I am married with two small children so juggling social life with family, work and sleep is difficult. I'm lucky to get 7 hours of sleep at night and that's if I actually get to sleep at 8:00 PM (usually to bed at 9 or 10ish PM). I still see gains in strength, but can tell that my motivation and endurance has not fared so well (Still have a 3:45 Fran as of last week). I can't wait to get on a new schedule!


wrote …

I'm a coach at CrossFitNYC, I end many of my classes by saying, "Go eat, shower and get 10 hours of sleep tonight!" Usually this elicits a laugh from the sweaty crew, it's good to know I have some science backing up my advice! I'll tell them today, "Get ten hours of sleep because you're medulla oblongota, in order to catch the golden snitch must... just go read Martin's article!" Thanks for all the great info.


wrote …


Solid work. Very much under the public radar on the health scene...The lion's share of the non-workout material focuses on diet.

In addition to the quantity of sleep and suppression of SNS (sympathetic) prior to bedtime, it seems that the time of sleep commencement/awakening are critical to optimizing sleep quality as well. To state the obvious, sleeping ten hours from 1am to 11am is very different than sleeping from 9:30pm to 7:30am. Circadian rhythmicity signifcantly affects hormone secretion and repair processes (autophagy, etc). In simple terms: Rise with the sunrise and set with the sunset.

Thx for shedding some non-blue light on the matter...pun intended


wrote …

What about sleeping with a fan on. Good or Bad? Not looking for preference here, just want to know if having a fan on while you sleep can disrupt any of the sleep cycles, or does the "white noise" improve sleep?


wrote …

Mr Rawls-Meehan,
I have been waiting for a long time for the CrossFit community to recognize the importance of sleep. Too often we try to "check the box" with respect to sleep instead of approaching it as scientifically and methodically as we do our training regimens. And as you articulately point out, anything that you do for ~1/3 your life must be important.

Anecdotally, my 68 year old father works out 5-6 times a week and still works a job for 12+ hours a day. But he goes to bed at 8pm almost religiously and single-handedly credits his focus on sleep as the reason he can keep going as intensely as he does.

Hopefully we'll see more articles by you or others on this evolving subject. I believe that we will look back in 20 years and shake our heads as to why sleep got so little attention in the US for nearly 100 years.

Additionally, would love to see some follow up material on sleep positions.



wrote …

Martin really great stuff, I definitely believe sleep is the most underrated aspect of Crossfit and conditioning in general. Keep it up.


replied to comment from Blake Hoopes

Hi Blake,

That is an excellent question. I've seen a study from the 70's on college students by Scott that showed white noise can reduce the length of the REM stage of sleep and increase the length of stages 1 and 2. However, the white noise level was very high (over 90 dB) and stage 2 sleep is valuable as well. There was also a study done by Tasali and Van Cauter (confirmed by a later study by Stamatakis) that showed slow wave sleep could be interrupted by auditory stimuli, but it seems to me that it was the variation in stimuli across frequencies (500-2000 Hz) and intensities (up to 110 dB) that served the purpose as opposed to a constant "white" noise.

So, my answer is really that I don't know for sure and I don't think there is a definitive scientific answer. My best guess is that white noise will not disturb your sleep provided it is not extremely loud. If anything, it may block out noises of varying frequencies and intensities that are more likely to wake you up. I suppose this is probably why many people prefer to sleep with fans on.

I usually sleep with a fan on myself, and I've not seen any degradation in the quality of my sleep as a result. If sleeping with white noise works for you then I wouldn't change the habit, but if you think it is having a negative impact on your sleep then try sleeping without white noise for a while and see if it improves.

Hope that helps!


wrote …

Mr. Rawls-Meehan,

Would you be willing to give a presentation on the importance of sleep to a group of Firefighters?

Our department uses Crossfit as our main mode of fitness, and we're trying to get our Firefighters informed about overall health. We talk about exercise, we talk about nutrition, but sleep is nowhere on the radar.

Please let me know if you'd be willing. Or maybe point us in a direction that could provide a presentation.

Thanks for your time!

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