Sleep Is The Key To Peak Performance In College Athletics

Walking from my dorm to the volleyball gym at 6:30 a.m. is a blur. My eyes sting, my stomach hurts and nothing sounds better than jumping back into my cozy bed for a few more hours. I consider myself lucky that I only have two morning practices per week. Many Harvard athletes experience this on a daily basis.

Harvard is full of exhausted athletes who are trying to make it through a day full of class without falling asleep. The pressure stemming from coaches to perform before the sun rises coupled with the expectation to excel in the classroom is the perfect recipe for burnout and exhaustion.

Studies have shown that sleep-deprivation is detrimental to performance, both athletically and academically. A 2014 Queensland University study found that the amount of sleep an athlete gets is determined by his or her training schedule. The researchers confirmed that earlier start times lead to a direct loss of sleep and increased fatigue prior to practice. The study suggests that coaches should be mindful of the effects of scheduling on athletes' performance.


"The pressure stemming from coaches to perform before the sun rises coupled with the expectation to excel in the classroom is the perfect recipe for burnout and exhaustion."

I am one of the lucky ones - my coach, Jennifer Weiss, is aware of the harmful effects of sleep-deprivation. "As a young coach you think, 'Ok! We are going to do everything we can to get to the top' and if that means sacrificing athletes sleep, so be it," Coach Weiss said. "Then, you start to see your athletes are fatigued and not performing anywhere near their potential. This experience leads you to a better understanding of the sleep necessities of athletes and opens your mind to sleep education."

To be fair, coaches cannot plan practice whenever they want because of field and gym availability. But one of the most crucial components of peak performance is sufficient sleep. I am aware that there are unavoidable morning practices due to conflicts, however, sleep education can help coaches advise their athletes to achieve the proper rest and recovery that they need to succeed.

Most importantly, it is our responsibility as student athletes to be mindful of our bedtime. The importance of sleep should never be underestimated as it is essential to our performance in school and athletics. Prioritizing sleep leading up to competition is necessary and we can work to time manage our crazy schedules to incorporate this key to success.

This post is part of our series on sleep culture on college campuses. To join the conversation and share your own story, please email our Director of College Outreach Abby Williams directly at abigail.williams@huffingtonpost.com. And you can find out here if the #SleepRevolution College Tour will be visiting your campus, and learn how you can get involved. If your college is not one of the colleges already on our tour and you want it to be, please get in touch with Abby.