by: Matt Vaughn, PsyD from ProWorld Tennis Academy | Professional Tennis Coach | Doctor of Psychology
Consistent quality sleep is one of the most important aspects to playing tennis at the highest level. It is also one of the most ignored, especially among junior players. Lack of sleep causes reduced performance, poor emotional control, loss of motivation, decreased ability to concentrate, poor decision-making and shot-selection during matches, and a lowered ability to master new information and skills learned during practices. You will get tired more quickly during matches and your body takes longer to recover. Even injuries take longer to heal.
For most people, 7-9 hours of sleep is needed for good cognitive abilities, emotional well-being, and overall performance in daily life. Elite athletes require even more—at least an hour extra. Because of the long training days and how hard the body is pushed, high-level tennis players require a consistent 9-10 hours each night to perform at their best. Throughout the night, sleep goes through four cycles, or stages. These stages progress one by one (1 through 4) over the course of 90 to 100 minutes. After the body passes through each of the four stages, the cycle starts over again at stage 1. The goal is to complete as many full cycles as possible. The most important stage of the sleep cycle is the last one, which is why athletes need a lot of sleep to perform at their highest level during practice and matches—9-10 hours.
Follow these tips to improve your sleep hygiene (different practices and habits that help improve quality and length of sleep) and sleep environment to maximize on-court performance.
- Maintain a consistent sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day and night, even on weekends. Staying up too late and sleeping in on the weekends negatively impacts your sleep cycle for the rest of the week.
- Put away all electronics with a screen (smart phone, television, video games, tablets, computer, etc.) at least an hour before bed. The blue spectrum light from these devices severely disrupts ability to fall asleep and sleep quality.
- Turn your phone on silent and keep it out of arm’s length from your bed (even if you use your phone as an alarm clock).
- Avoid food and drink (especially caffeine and fatty foods) within two hours of sleeping. For some, a small snack before bed might help sleep. If so, make it healthy.
- Avoid stimulating activity within two hours of sleeping.
- Do not use your bed for anything besides sleep (homework, watching television, etc.) because your brain will learn to associate lying in bed with being awake.
- Take a warm shower before bed and brush your teeth well. The shower helps to relax the body and being clean has calming effects.
- When you wake up in the morning, get out of bed immediately and into the lights. Turn your lights on and open the blinds. Your brain is expecting and needs bright light to keep the sleep cycle stable. Get up to your first alarm and do not hit the snooze button. Washing your face right away is helpful.
- If you become tired during the day, take a nap if you have time. Make sure the nap is before 2:00 PM and is 30 minutes or less, otherwise it will negatively impact your sleep cycle.
- Keep the temperature cool. It’s usually much easier to fall asleep in a cooler environment.
- Keep the bedroom as dark as possible. Even tiny sources of light can impact ability to fall asleep. Your brain releases a hormone at night called melatonin that signals the body to begin falling asleep. Light sources, even if small, decrease the amount of melatonin released. Consider using an eye mask if necessary.
- Make the bedroom as quiet as possible. If helpful, especially if needed to drown out other noise in the household, use a white noise maker to generate constant and peaceful ambient sound. Consider using ear plugs if necessary.
- Your mattress, pillows, and covers should be high quality and as comfortable as possible. Pillow cases and covers should be cleaned frequently.
- Keep your bedroom as neat and organized as possible. Your brain associates clutter with stress and organization with relaxation. For example, clothes lying on the floor and a disorganized desk actually makes falling asleep more difficult.
- Keep your bedroom as clean as possible by vacuuming and dusting. Airborne particles negatively impact sleep.
- Make your bed in the morning. Your brain is more relaxed at night getting into a made bed.