Does Elite Sport Degrade Sleep Quality? A Systematic Review



Information on sleep quality and insomnia symptomatology among elite athletes remains poorly systematised in the sports science and medicine literature. The extent to which performance in elite sport represents a risk for chronic insomnia is unknown.


The purpose of this systematic review was to profile the objective and experienced characteristics of sleep among elite athletes, and to consider relationships between elite sport and insomnia symptomatology.


Studies relating to sleep involving participants described on a pre-defined continuum of ‘eliteness’ were located through a systematic search of four research databases: SPORTDiscus, PubMed, Science Direct and Google Scholar, up to April 2016. Once extracted, studies were categorised as (1) those mainly describing sleep structure/patterns, (2) those mainly describing sleep quality and insomnia symptomatology and (3) those exploring associations between aspects of elite sport and sleep outcomes.


The search returned 1676 records. Following screening against set criteria, a total of 37 studies were identified. The quality of evidence reviewed was generally low. Pooled sleep quality data revealed high levels of sleep complaints in elite athletes. Three risk factors for sleep disturbance were broadly identified: (1) training, (2) travel and (3) competition.


While acknowledging the limited number of high-quality evidence reviewed, athletes show a high overall prevalence of insomnia symptoms characterised by longer sleep latencies, greater sleep fragmentation, non-restorative sleep, and excessive daytime fatigue. These symptoms show marked inter-sport differences. Two underlying mechanisms are implicated in the mediation of sport-related insomnia symptoms: pre-sleep cognitive arousal and sleep restriction.

Key Points

Insomnia symptomatology is high among elite athletes, with sleep quality appearing most vulnerable prior to major competitive events, during periods of high-intensity training and following long-haul travel to competitions.

Athlete sleep disturbances can affect training and competition directly, through fatigue, or indirectly, through sleep-related performance anxieties.

In general, the quality of the evidence base addressing sleep quality among elite athletes is low, with poor operationalisation of sleep quality constructs and few controlled comparisons of athlete and non-athlete sleep. 


Autor / Fonte:Luke Gupta, Kevin Morgan, Sarah Gilchrist Sports Medicine 2016 November 29