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Numerous studies have established a direct link between healthy sleep habits and strong athletic performance. Well-rested athletes are faster, stronger, more accurate, and quicker to react than those who do not receive enough sleep. Additionally, proper sleep can supplement exercise routines, allowing athletes to build muscle, strength, and endurance more effectively. Those who don’t enough sleep often pay the price physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Choosing the right mattress can greatly impact an athlete’s sleep habits and routines. However, it’s important to understand the key differences between mattress types — such as innerspring, foam, latex, and hybrid models — in terms of support, comfort, firmness, and other important sleep factors. This page will look at the most important sleep considerations for athletes of all ages, as well as some mattress comparing and buying tips.
We all require a good night’s sleep in order to wake up feeling refreshed and function the following day. However, athletes face unique considerations when it comes to sleep. Poor or inadequate sleep can lead to problems like slow reaction times, lengthier recovery times and diminished motor skills — all of which impact athletic performance.
Sleep deprivation and sleep debt are two important factors. Sleep deprivation is a condition characterized by lack of sleep that may be chronic or acute in nature. Sleep debt refers to incremental loss of sleep that accumulates over the course of a week or longer. Let’s say an athletic person receives seven hours of sleep each night from Monday to Friday, rather than the recommended eight hours of nightly sleep. By Saturday, that person’s ‘sleep debt’ will reach five hours — and they will most likely feel the effects, which may include slower reaction times, lack of focus, and delayed physical recovery from athletic activities.
Sleep deprivation also impacts body chemistry. When we sleep, our bodies regulate production of the stress hormone known as cortisol. Lack of sleep can cause cortisol levels to rise. This hinders the body’s ability to produce glycogen and carbohydrates, which provide energy boosts during high-endurance activities (such as athletic events). As sleep debt accumulates and cortisol levels increase, our bodies become less and less equipped to perform. Many athletes rely on supplements to replenish their glycogen and carbohydrate levels, and these supplements may carry negative side effects.
Generally speaking, athletes require more sleep than non-athlete adults, particularly before and after major athletic events. The average man or woman requires seven to nine hours of sleep per night in order to properly function the next day. However, adult athletes should get roughly 10 hours of sleep whenever they are training or competing on a regular basis. This helps ensure strong athletic performance, as well as a speedy physical recovery. Likewise, adolescent athletes are urged to get at least nine hours of sleep per night during their active seasons.
In addition to more overall sleep, athletes require steady sleep schedules that consist of both light and deep sleep. Light sleep, known as non-rapid-eye-movement (nREM) sleep, is associated with cell division and regeneration, which is crucial for muscle recovery. Cortisol regulation takes place primarily during REM sleep. Additionally, athletes may experience longer REM latency — the time from falling asleep until REM sleep begins — than non-athletes, and not getting enough REM sleep can negatively affect athletic performance and reaction time.
The following studies highlight the importance of sufficient sleep for athletes in different sports and activities.
Next, let’s look at important performance factors that athletes should consider when shopping for a new mattress.
When browsing and comparing different mattress brands and models, here are a few factors to keep in mind.
Firmness: Firmness is directly tied to the topmost layers of a mattress, which are collectively known as the comfort layer or comfort system. Firmness is often measured on a numerical scale, with 1 being the least firm and 10 being the firmest; most mattresses sold today rate between a 3 (Soft) and an 8 (Firm).
Firmness preferences vary strongly from person to person, and often come down to two individual factors: bodyweight and sleep position. People with below-average weights (130 pounds or less) tend to feel most comfortable on mattresses that rate between a 3 and a 5 (Medium). If the mattress is firmer, then lightweight sleepers may weigh enough to sink deeply and experience close conforming. Heavier sleepers (more than 230 pounds), on the other hand, typically prefer mattresses that rate between a 6 (Medium Firm) and an 8. If the mattress is less firm, then heavyweight sleepers may sink too deeply and experience discomfort and/or added pressure.
In terms of sleep position, those who sleep on their back utilize a position that naturally aligns the spine. As a result, they may feel comfortable on different firmness levels, often depending on their bodyweight. Side-sleepers do not utilize a position that aligns the spine, and often require a mattress that conforms to their body and targets pressure buildup. Stomach-sleepers face a similar issue regarding spinal misalignment, but they usually prefer firmer mattresses. If the mattress is too soft, then stomach-sleepers may sink too deeply, requiring them to turn their heads; this can cause pressure buildup, especially in the neck and shoulders.
Conforming: Some mattresses are designed to conform closely to sleeper’s bodies, forming a deep, contoured impression that helps align the spine and target pressure points along the shoulders, neck, back, and hips. Other mattresses do not conform as closely, and may not alleviate as much pressure. On the other hand, mattresses that sink too deeply can cause sleepers to feel more pressure in these sensitive areas.
Support: Support in a mattress is regulated in the support core, or the layer(s) located below the comfort system. The support core is intended to withstand the sleeper’s weight by pushing back, creating a level surface that keeps the spine straight. Mattresses that do not offer inadequate support will eventually sag, which makes the surface uneven. This can cause pain and pressure along the body over time. Side- and stomach-sleepers in particular require mattresses that offer sufficient support.
Temperature Neutrality: A significant number of adults naturally sleep hot or warm. Some mattresses amplify this feeling by absorbing high levels of body heat, which causes the bed to feel uncomfortably hot or warm. These increases in temperature can negatively impact sleep and leave individuals feeling tired and unfocused. Other mattresses retain less body heat and sleep fairly cool by comparison. These models are usually the best bet for naturally hot sleepers. Likewise, those who naturally sleep cold should seek out mattresses that will keep them sufficiently warm throughout the night.
Other Factors: In addition to the factors listed above, here are a few more considerations for athletes to make when comparing different mattress types, brands, and models:
Now let’s go over five of the most popular mattress types sold today, including pros and cons for athlete sleepers associated with each type.
Memory Foam: Memory foam, or viscoelastic polyfoam, is a polyurethane-based foam. When memory foam comes into contact with body temperatures, it sinks and conforms closely to the sleeper’s body. When cool, the foam retains its original, flattened surface. Memory foam mattresses typically have lower price-points.
Innerspring/Coil: Innerspring mattresses are the most widely sold mattresses today, accounting for roughly two-thirds of industry sales. These mattresses get their name from the steel coils that make up their support core; the coils are evenly spaced in order to properly distribute weight, and often reinforced with high-density polyfoam layers. Generally speaking, innersprings have medium to low price-points.
|Coil Type||Coil Shape||Average Wire Gauge||Average Price|
|Bonnell||Hourglass with Rounded Ends||12 to 18||Low|
|Offset||Hourglass with Straightened Ends||12 to 15||Medium|
|Continuous Wire||Straight Line||15 to 18||Low|
|Pocketed||Spiral with Fabric Casing||17 to 18||High|
Latex: Latex is a substance extracted from rubber trees that is processed into a foam-like material. All-latex mattresses are highly durable and have above-average lifespans; as a result, the price-points for these mattresses are typically high. Mattresses made with latex and foam components are more susceptible to sagging and deterioration, and the price-points tend to be lower.
Hybrid: By definition, a hybrid mattress features at least two inches of memory foam and/or latex in the comfort layer and a pocketed coil support core. Some mattresses sold as hybrids do not meet this criteria, and should not be considered true hybrids. Most hybrid mattresses have above-average price-points.
Airbed: An airbed offers adjustable firmness and support settings thanks to customizable air chambers that can be toggled remotely or manually, depending on the design. Airbeds are generally the most expensive mattresses on the market.
The table below breaks down these five mattress types in terms of factors that affect sleep for athletes, as well as price. We have assigned each mattress type an ‘Athlete Satisfaction Rating,’ based on individual reviews and athlete experiences with different brands and models.
|Mattress Type||Memory Foam||Innerspring/Coil||Latex||Hybrid||Airbed|
|Firmness Options||Good to Very Good||Good to Very Good||Good to Very Good||Good to Very Good||Very Good to Excellent|
|Conforming||Very Good to Excellent||Poor to Fair||Very Good to Excellent||Good to Very Good||Very Good to Excellent|
|Pain and Pressure Relief||Very Good to Excellent||Poor to Fair||Very Good to Excellent||Good to Very Good||Very Good to Excellent|
|Support||Fair to Good||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good||Fair to Good||Fair to Good|
|Temperature Neutrality||Poor to Fair||Good to Very Good||Fair to Good||Fair to Good||Poor to Fair|
|Motion Isolation||Very Good to Excellent||Poor to Fair||Good to Very Good||Good to Very Good||Good to Very Good|
|Noise||Very Good to Excellent||Poor to Fair||Very Good to Excellent||Fair to Good||Poor to Fair|
|Average Price Range||$500 to $900||$600 or Less||$1,300 to $1,800||$1,300 to $1,800||$2,000 or Higher|
|Athlete Satisfaction Rating||75%||67%||77%||76%||73%|