Sleep in endurance sports – Part 3: The lack of sleep & jet lag

Today is part three of our sleep series. We will explain how sleep interacts with sports and what you have to consider in case of a jet lag. If you have any questions, write to us, and we will answer them in our next Podcast!

What are the effects of lack of sleep & jet lag

“Sleep duration, sleep quality and timing of sleep phases are considered essential components that influence the ability to train, maximize training response, recovery and performance”. (Sargent, Halson & Roach, 2014 (1))

Reduced sleep duration and quality impairs athletic performance

  • Loss of accuracy, speed and endurance (2-4)
  • Deficits in cognitive functions
  • Impairment of physical health (5)

Further consequences of disturbed sleep:

  • Increased muscle tension
  • Tiredness and pain after training and competitions
  • Increase in mental stress (6) 

Jet lag

  • Abrupt changes in the sleep-wake rhythm
  • Optimal coordination of all body functions become desynchronized
  • Travelling to the east (shifting the sleep cycle forward) causes more discomfort than travelling to the west
  • Arrive at least 1 day per hour of time zone shift prior to competition (7)

Sleep can increase athletic performance

When learning a new movement, sleeping after the learning phase can improve the ability to master the movement better than not sleeping after learning (8, 9, 10).

Consolidation of motor memory content depending on the “learning stage” occurs in REM sleep or stage N2:

  • New acquisition of sequentially structured motor tasks →  REM-sleep 
  • Known motor tasks →  N2 (11)

Sports can improve sleep parameters

  • Subjective: deeper sleep
  • Objective: increase in total sleep duration and deep sleep; shortening the time to fall asleep (12)
  • Fewer interruptions during sleep (13)


  1. Sargent, C., Lastella, M., Halson, S. L., & Roach, G. D. (2014). The impact of training schedules on the sleep and fatigue of elite athletes. Chronobiology International, 31(10), 1160-1168.
  2. Dinges DF, Pack F, Williams K et al.: Cumulativ sleepness, mood disturbance, and psychomotor vigilance performance decretments during a week of sleep restricted to 4–5 hours per night. Sleep. 1997; 20: 267–77.
  3. Carscadon MA, Dement WC. Cumulative effects of sleep restriction on daytime sleepiness. Psychophysiology. 1981; 18: 107–13.
  4. Van Dongen HP, Maislin G, Mullington JM, Dinges DF. The cumulative cost of additional wakefulness: dose-response effects on neurobehavioral functions and sleep physiology from chronic sleep restriction and total sleep deprivation. Sleep. 2003; 26: 117–26.
  5. Simpson, N. S., Gibbs, E. L., & Matheson, G. O. (2017). Optimizing sleep to maximize performance: implications and recommendations for elite athletes. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 27(3), 266-274.
  6. Kölling, S., Duffield, R., Erlacher, D., Venter, R., & Halson, S. L. (2019). Sleep-related issues for recovery and performance in athletes. International journal of sports physiology and performance, 14(2), 144-148.
  7. Smith RS, Guillemineault C, Efron B: Circadian rhythms and enhanced athletic performance in the National Football League. Sleep 1997;20:362–365.
  8. Erlacher D, Schredl M: Effect of Motor Learning Task on REM Sleep Parameters. Sleep and Hypnosis 2006;8:41–46.
  9. Blischke K, Erlacher D, Kresin H, Brückner S, Malangrè A: Benefits of sleep in motor learning: prospects and limitations. Journal of Human Kinetics 2008;20:23–36.
  10. Walker MP, Brakefield T, Morgan A, Hobson JA, Stickgold R: Practice with sleep make perfect: Sleep depent motor skill learning. Neuron 2002;35:205– 211.
  11. Smith C, Aubrey JB, Peters KR: Different roles for REM and stage 2 sleep in motor learning: a proposed model. Psychologica Belgica 2004;44:79–102.a
  12. Erlacher D, Gebhart C, Ehrlenspiel F, Blischke K, Schredl M: Motorisches Gedächtnis, Wettkampfleistung und Schlafqualität. Zeitschrift für Sportpsy- chologie 2012;19:4–15.
  13. Brand S, Gerber M, Beck J, Hatzinger M, Puhse U, Holsboer-Trachsler E: High exercise levels are related to favorable sleep patterns and psychological functioning in adolescents: a comparison of athletes and controls. Journal of Adolescent Health 2010;46:133–141.