Sleep impacts every aspect of the student-athlete experience. Not only does sleep affect the physical well-being of student-athletes - including injury prevention, recovery, and immune response - but it is also the best predictor of student-athlete mental health.

Elite athletes have the attitude that they can overcome any obstacle. This attitude is critical in competitive sports. However, this attitude can also result in the athlete thinking that they can still achieve peak performance even when sleep deprived.

The NCAA Inter-Association Task Force on Sleep and Wellness has said that on average, in-season student-athletes are getting 6.27 hours of sleep nightly (while 8-12 hours is ideal).

There are hundreds of studies that have looked at sleep problems in specific sports, specific nations, different levels of sport, different leagues, which all show that the prevalence of sleep problems in athletes, and the psychiatric problems that go along with them, cannot be ignored any more.

  • Impaired recovery from a single HIIT session
  • Reduced PPO (peak power output)
  • Reduced motivation to train
  • Decreased maximal jump performance, increased joint coordination variability (which predisposes an athlete to injury, because of faulty technique)
  • Slower response times
  • Negative effect on the continuous kicking test (soccer)
  • Slower sprint times
  • Steeper learning curves
  • Perceived increased training load
  • Poorer concentration and sustained attention
  • Maximal isometric strength
  • Increased injury rates
  • Slower recovery and prolonged rehabilitation after injuries
  • Shortened playing careers
  • Worse accuracy
  • More mental and practical errors
  • Lower psychological resilience
  • Difficult team dynamics
  • Slower muscle recovery
  • Lower muscle glycogen, poor glucose metabolism, and more

Impaired athletic performance is one of the most notable side effects of lack of sleep. Studies have shown that sleep loss impairs the frontal lobe of the brain and has negative effects on decision making such as sensitivity to risk taking, moral reasoning, and inhibitions. Sleep deprivation can also disrupt the connection between the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortex that causes people to react more emotionally to negative stimuli due to the amygdala overreacting. For student-athletes, this can manifest as sudden emotional outbursts at teammates, coaches, officials, or opponents that may disrupt the flow of a game. These outbursts can further negatively impact the dynamics on a team.

In addition to the behavioral effects of lack of sleep, sleep deprivation can worsen concentration and destroy productivity. Lack of sleep is known to reduce reaction times significantly while also lessening motivation, focus, memory, and learning.

Furthermore, studies have shown even a surprisingly low level of fatigue can impair reaction times as much, if not more, than being legally drunk.

Sleep is the strongest predictor of injuries in athletes. Lower total sleeping time and not getting regularly enough sleeping time is associated with a higher injury rate.

Lower total sleep time also causes athletes to perceive the training load to be higher the following day.

  • Muscle repair and growth is hindered
  • Muscle gain is diminished
  • Focus and motivation become impaired
  • Glucose metabolism decreases
  • Immune function is impaired – even a small loss of sleep has been shown to impair immune function. One night of sleep restriction (4 hours) causes a 70% decrease in natural killer cell activity.
  • Coordination and cognitive skills are impaired
  • Impacts organs ability to rest and recover
  • Slows and stalls progress
  • Inflammation worsens
  • Risk of injury increases
  • Pain perception increases
  • Mood and emotional health worsen

Talking about Testosterone

Testosterone is an anabolic hormone (it helps build muscle) and is critical for performance. One study showed that when healthy young men get five hours of sleep every night for a week, their testosterone levels drop by 10-14%. If the average drop in testosterone levels each year is 1-2%, it shows that sleep loss can result in a level of testosterone of someone 10 years older than you. Testosterone not only improves muscle mass, strength, and performance, it also has critical roles in concentration and memory, energy levels, bone strength, red blood cell counts, heart health, blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure.


  • Beyond acute injuries, one recent study on MLB players has shown fatigue can shorten the playing careers (and therefore income) of professional athletes.
  • 72% of sleepy MLB players are no longer in major leagues two years later.


  • Sleep deprivation will reduce your basketball shooting accuracy by more than 9%.


  • Well rested football players dropped 0.12 seconds off their 40-yard dash time and improved split-second decision-making ability by 4.3%.
  • The data shows that, in NFL players, after seven to eight weeks of sleep extension, average sprint time in the 20-yard shuttle improved from 4.71 seconds to 4.61 seconds, and average 40-yard dash time decreased from 4.99 seconds to 4.89 seconds.


  • Sleep deprivation in junior soccer players (14-19 years old) have a negative effect on the continuous kicking test, on the 30-meter sprint with directional changes, and a steeper learning curve.


Well rested swimmers:

  • 17% improvement in starting times.
  • Improved turn time by .10 seconds.
  • Increased number of kicks by 5.0 kicks.
  • Swam a 15 meter sprint .51 seconds faster.


  • Tennis players who were sleep deprived saw serving accuracy decrease by 31%.
  • Sleep deprivation can reduce tennis serving speed by around 40%.
  • Well rested tennis players have a 4.2% increase in hitting accuracy.


  • In a study of volleyball players, those with poor sleep quality reported higher scores for confusion (for each point increase in the confusion level, there was a 19.7% reduction in sleep quality).

Sleep and mental health are heavily intertwined. For many student-athletes, discussing mental health openly with coaches, teammates, or administrators can become a daunting task. Student-athletes may fear the stigma surrounding mental health, the work that may be required once a solution is determined, or the loss of playing time. As quality and quantity of sleep is directly correlated with the diagnosis of mental health issues, discussing sleep history and sleep patterns can act as a gateway to talking about student-athlete mental health.

Not getting enough sleep or poor-sleep quality can increase risk for mental health issues. While insomnia can be a symptom of psychiatric disorders, like anxiety and depression, it is now recognized that sleep problems can also contribute to the onset and worsening of different mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and even suicidal ideation.

The Impact of Sleep Problems on Mental Health

  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Depressive Disorders
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Jerusalem Syndrome
  • PTSD
  • Substance Use
  • Psychotropic Medications

Those with mental health issues are even more likely to experience chronic sleep problems and, in turn, these sleep problems are likely to exacerbate psychiatric symptoms and even increase risk for suicide.

sleep and emotional regulation

Sleep deprivation negatively impacts emotions and social interactions. Studies show that inadequate sleep produces more negative emotions. These negative emotions can manifest in student-athletes in a variety of ways:

  • Catastrophizing - irrational thought that things are much worse than they are.
  • Comic Book Brain - your half-awake brain takes a grain of reality and creates a "comic book" that is not based in reality, but can be very emotional
  • Worry - tired but wired
  • Emotional Reasoning - seeing things as we think they are, not how they actually are
  • Negative emotions are amplified at night and spill over into the day, making people question what is real and what is not real.

How Good Sleep Benefits Your Mental Health

While sleep deprivation and poor sleep habits wreak havoc on our mental health, getting adequate amounts of deep, restorative shut eye can make our bodies and minds feel better. Getting better sleep at night leads to:

  • Higher levels of creativity
  • An ability to identify and regulate emotions
  • Increased mental health quality
  • Better judgment and decision making

Our bodies are a complex collection of systems, rhythms, and hormones. Sleep is a critical process for keeping these systems in balance and when we’re not getting enough sleep, things start to fall out of balance. This includes surges of the stress hormone cortisol, which can impact mood and leave us prone to greater mental health challenges. Studies have shown that good sleep is an essential tool for managing mental health.

In recent years, conference realignment has impacted NCAA Division I. With these changes comes increased travel for student-athletes, which, compounded by competing priorities, will undoubtedly negatively impact their mental health, academic and sports performance.

The Sun Belt Conference recognizes the imperative role sleep plays in the student-athlete mental health equation. With 14 member institutions in 10 contiguous states, the Sun Belt is committed to its identity as a regional conference with a divisional model. This places the Sun Belt Conference in a unique position that prioritizes student-athlete wellbeing. The Sun Belt has already taken measures to ease travel distress for student-athletes by adjusting schedules to accommodate for cross-divisional road trips.

In addition to optimizing scheduling, implementing sleep strategies is crucial to ensuring athletes get enough rest to perform at their best. With proper education, training, and support, athletes can minimize the negative effects of travel and achieve their full potential both in and out of competition. Sun Belt Sleep to Rise aims to do just that.

Working alongside an esteemed team of sleep specialists, Dr. Shane Creado and Brendan Duffy, the Sun Belt Conference has awarded grants to each member institution for sleep consultation services.

The scope of their work will include:

  • Sleep guidelines for the Sun Belt Conference.
  • Sleep workshops for teams.
  • Teaching other treatment staff that work with a team.
  • Individual athlete consultations: Sleep normalization (treatment of disorders) and sleep optimization (KPIs).
  • Team consultations: In-season, pre-season, off-season (concierge/ troubleshooting).
  • Travel/ jet lag/ performance optimization strategies (proprietary IP).
  • KPIs: New paradigms/data for sleep protocols in that particular sport.
  • Team can publish data in academic journals (ex: sleep protocols and testosterone, sleep protocols and reactions times, sleep protocols and injury rates, sleep protocols and depression/ anxiety scales, etc.)
  • Data scientists crunch numbers and look at performance improvements individually and as a team.

Future Champion At Rest

Student-athletes and coaches will also receive Sun Belt Sleep to Rise eye masks and "Future Champion at Rest" door hangers at all 2023-24 Sun Belt Conference Championships.

Sleep strategies to weaponize your performance.

  1. Avoid sleep deprivation prior to departure. If you start with sleep debt, it could make you more prone to jet lag.
  2. Prioritize sleep when you’re booking flight times: a) Time your travel to avoid waking up too early. b) If you usually struggle to sleep on a flight, avoid flying overnight. c) If possible, arrive at your destination in time for a full night's sleep.
  3. If you can influence the scheduling of your activity at the destination, choose a time when you’d be awake at your point of departure, so that your internal body clock will be more alert. If you’ve flown west, you will be more alert in the morning, and if you’ve flown east, you will be more alert in the afternoon.
  4. Have athletes bank their sleep through naps/sleep extension for a few days before travel so that they are primed to adjust to the new time zone quickly.
  5. Change practice times to match the times of competition at the destination.
  1. Pack your sleep performance kit: It may include your sleep diaries, an eye mask, your favorite pillow, a hypoallergenic comforter or weighted blanket, supplements, light box, earplugs, moisturizer, lip balm, socks, spare clothes, chewy sweets for equalizing ear pressure, noise cancelling headphones, etc.
  2. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes you can easily remove.
  3. Take your favorite pair of PJs or a pillow – familiar objects will make your new hotel room feel more comfortable.
  4. You’ll be able to relax more if you’re not anxious about timing – leave plenty of time for navigating airport security.
  5. Drink plenty of water or juice (rather than tea or coffee) to avoid dehydration.
  6. To help adjust the body clock, change your watch and phone to the time at your new destination when you board. Plan to eat and sleep according to your new schedule, not the one imposed by the in-flight service.
  7. Have a plan for how you’ll be getting from the arrival airport to your final destination.
  8. Try to sleep on the flight (sleep banking), you will have accumulated sleep, so you will have less sleep thirst when you arrive at your destination, and more bandwidth to shift your rhythm and adjust to the new time zone quicker.
  9. Avoid caffeine in flight.
  10. A high-carbohydrate, low-protein meal in the evening may enhance serotonin production to promote drowsiness and sleep.
  11. A high-protein, low carbohydrate meal in the morning may increase the uptake of tyrosine and its conversion to adrenaline, which elevates arousal and promotes alertness.
  12. Considering that skeletal muscle and connective tissues become shortened during flights and may stiffen, it is recommended that players avoid sitting the entire trip, and instead, walk around the cabin every hour.
  1. Follow the sleep-wake and meal times of your local destination as much as possible.
  2. Avoid naps, and fight sleepiness through the alertness promoting strategies discussed previously. (Caffeine can be used to counteract daytime sleepiness but should ideally be avoided within eight hours of bedtime.)
  3. Use blue light exposure in the morning and red light exposure in the evening in order to resynchronize the circadian rhythm.
  4. If you have a regular wind down routine at home, maintain it while you’re away.
  5. If you are in bed and struggling to get to sleep: Consider the sleep-promoting strategies, supplements, and low-dose melatonin of 0.5-5mg at bedtime. For insomnia, consider short-term use of a sedative prescribed by your doctor.
  6. Avoid light exposure at night (dim lights, dark glasses).
  7. If you’ve arrived during the day and are sleepy: caffeine, light therapy, exercise, and things to keep your mind busy can help. If you must, you can take a brief nap (up to 30 minutes). This may be enough to reduce sleepiness, but brief enough not to disrupt your nighttime sleep drive.

For additional travel strategies, please reference:

Victor Wembanyama reportedly rejected billionaire Michael Rubin’s “Summer Players Party" to get sleep before 27-point explosion in second game.

Shohei’s Secret Revealed? How sleep has aided Ohtani’s excellence

“Sleep is all about recovering. So if you’re not sleeping, you’re not recovering. And if you’re going to break your body down a lot, you better find ways to build it back up. And the only way to do that is get a lot of sleep. So for me, I go to bed at like 8:30, 9:00. As soon as I put my kids to bed. Because I’m up at 5:30 the next day...I go to bed very early because I’m up very early. I think that the decisions that I make always center around performance enhancement, if that makes sense. So whether that’s what I eat or what decisions I make or whether I drink or don’t drink, it’s always football-centric. I want to be the best I can be every day. I want to be the best I can be every week. I want to be the best I can be for my teammates. I love the game and I want to do it for a long time. But I also know that if I want to do it for a long time, I have to do things differently than the way guys have always done it.”

- Tom Brady

American Sprinter Gabby Thomas well-researched in power of sleep, even writing paper on rest

How the MLB’s New Pitch Clock is Giving Baseball Players a Better Night’s Sleep

Caitlin Clark put on eight pounds of muscle to ‘take her game to the next level.’ Here is how she did it, according to the trainer who helped her.

How Formula 1 drivers beat back jet lag: bagging sleep, lots of caffeine, and surfing.

dr. shane creado

Dr. Shane Creado is a double board-certified sleep medicine doctor and psychiatrist. He practices functional sleep medicine, integrative psychiatry, and sports psychiatry.

He is the founder and chairman of the Sleep Performance Committee for the International Society for Sports Psychiatry (ISSP). The mission of this committee is to advance the mission of education, awareness, screening and treatment of sleep problems in athletes as well as the optimization in athletes. Sleep is a crucial and inalienable aspect of mental health. Thus, mental health in an athlete can never be fully addressed without addressing sleep in a comprehensive manner.

He is also on the Board of Directors of the International Society for Sports Psychiatry (ISSP).

He is now the Delegate for the USA for the International Summit on advancing Sports Psychiatry, as well as the Chairman of Innovation and Technology for the ISSP working toward the integration of sleep and performance metrics in the technology space.

He is the author of the book ‘Peak Sleep Performance for Athletes,’ The cutting-edge sleep science that will guarantee a competitive advantage. It debuted at #1 in Sports Medicine on Amazon on March 17, 2020.

He is also a contributing author to six principal books in Sports Psychiatry.

He is/has been affiliated with the PGA tour Europe, the NBA Players association, the Australian Football League, the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, Miami Heat, Chicago Blackhawks, the Rafa Nadal Academy and more.

He has been endorsed or mentioned by a host of elite clients and colleagues such as Dr. Daniel Amen, ISSP board, Mike Bryan (tennis) Justin Bieber, Jim Kwik, Erik Spoelstra, Hannah Brown, Hulda Quebe, Nick Hardwick, Washington University men’s basketball, Danni Wyatt (female British professional cricketer), Team Body Works UK (triathlete academy) and many elite and current retired athletes.

Brendan duffy

Registered Sleep Technologist-Clinical Sleep Health Educator and former Travel Sports Coach

With special interest in the realm of sports athletes and fatigue management, Brendan Duffy has over 20 years of experience in sleep medicine as both a sleep tech, sleep center manager, and sleep educator.

This often overlooked area could determine if your team wins or loses, if players get injured, or how well prepared your players are both mentally and physically .

Brendan Duffy is currently the Director of six Sleep Wake-Disorder Centers across Long Island, NY.

He has worked with various NCAA sports teams, NCAA athletes, and triathlon athletes. Brendan has also assisted NCAA Tournament and NCAA traveling teams with travel arrangements so as to minimize jetlag and optimize performance at the destination.

He speaks locally and nationally at sports and industry conferences and also with individual NCAA teams and staffs about the importance of athlete (and coaches) sleep for mental and physical health

Mr. Duffy has authored several sleep-sport performance articles focusing the impact of sleep on player health, athletic competition and overall preparation.

On several of these projects he has worked with professional and Olympic athletes.

He has appeared on local and national media venues such as Fox streaming channels CFN , News12, Bethpage Black PGA Golf Radio…and others.

He can be contacted at sleepcoachz@gmail.com.

Peak Sleep Performance For Athletes: The Cutting Edge Sleep Science That Will Guarantee A Competitive Advantage

The Healthy Minds Study

Dr. Jacob Cooper, Ph. D, HSP-P

Assistant Athletics Director For Sport Psychology and Mental Wellness


Scott Crothers

Athletic Health Care Administrator


ASU Counseling Center

828-262-3180 | counseling.appstate.edu

614 Howard Street, Boone, NC 28608

m.s. shook student health services

828-262-3100 healthservices.appstate.edu/students

614 Howard Street, Boone, NC 28608

wellness & Prevention services

828-262-3148 | wellness.appstate.edu

614 Howard Street, Boone, NC 28608

Ron young

Mental Health Therapist

870-273-3765 | rayoung@sbrmc.org

amy holt

Athletic Support Services

870-680-4163 | aholt@astate.edu

eric ennis

Health Care Administrator

573-275-3136 | eennis@astate.edu

Arkansas State Counseling Services


counseling services

251 University Blvd. | 843-349-2305

Student health services

251 University Blvd. | 843-349-6543

Coastal Outreach Services

Lib Jackson Student Union, A108


Waccamaw Center for Mental Health

164 Waccamaw Medical Park Dr., Conway, SC 29526


dr. Brandonn harris

Sport Psychologist & Counselor

Dr. Megan Byrd

Sport Psychologist

Dr. Justin Lancaster

Team Physician

Melinda Rule

Athletics Mental Health Counselor

Brandy Clouse

Deputy AD / SWA / Head Athletic Trainer / Athletic Heath Care Administrator

To make an appointment, contact Brandy Clouse at 912-531-1436 or bpetty@georgiasouthern.edu.

Counseling Center


Counseling Center Sleep Clinic

georgia state university counseling & testing center

Citizen's Trust Building, 75 Piedmont Ave, N.E. (Next to University Commons) | Counseling Center, Suite 200A

404-413-1640 | counselingcenter.gsu.edu

Office Hours:

  • Tuesday, Wednesday: 8:30 a.m. - 7 p.m.
  • Monday, Thursday, Friday: 8:30 a.m. - 5:15 p.m.

Same Day Appointment Hours

  • Tuesday, Wednesday: 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.
  • Monday, Thursday, Friday: 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.

The Counseling Center is available for emergencies at any time. Students must be available at least 30 minutes before the last appointment to complete paperwork. Appointments are scheduled on the hour.

Dr. Bob Harmison, Lcp, cmpc

Director of Sport Psychology, Athletics

540-568-7347 | harmisrj@jmu.edu

Convo 1015

melinda fox, lpc

Athletics Liaison, Counseling Center

540-568-6552 | fox3mm@jmu.edu

Student Success Center, 3rd Floor

Erin Caffrey, PA-C

Physician Assistant, Athletics

540-568-6966 | caffreem@jmu.edu

Godwin 134

TimelyCare Virtual Support

Free, 24/7 on-demand emotional support

If experiencing a mental health emergency or crisis:

  • Go to Counseling Center or call 540-568-6552. The Counseling Center's hours are: Monday-Friday 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.; if after hours, call 540-568-6552, then Press 1
  • Call 540-689-1414 (Sentara RMH Hospital)
  • Call 988 (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)
  • Text "HOME" to 741741

teressa leday

Title IX Coordinator

337-482-1819 | titleix@louisiana.edu

Buchanan Hall, Room 116

jessica Gibson

Licensed Counselor


Melissa Hardy

Licensed Clinical Social Worker


Counseling & Testing Center


University Police


Dean of Students


Pamela Jackson

Title IX Coordinator

318-342-1004 | titleix@ulm.edu

Walker Hall, Room 1-32

ulm health clinic

318-342-1651 | 1140 University Avenue

ULM counseling center

318-342-5220 | 1140 University Avenue

ulm police department

Crisis Intervention Training Certified


Filhiol Hall | 3811 DeSiard Street

dr. david rupp

Herd Team Family Medicine Physician

Rupp2@marshall.edu | 304-691-1180

Be Herd Mental Wellness and Performance


marshall university counseling services


office of public safety


1801 5th Ave., Huntington, WV 25755

dr. sonja lund, ph.d.

Associate Athletic Director, Student-Athlete Mental Health Well-Being

757-683-5969 | slund@odu.edu

Old Dominion University Counseling Services


Webb University Center | 1526 W 49th St. Norfolk, VA 23529

old dominion university student health services


Webb University Center | 1007 W 49th St. Norfolk, VA 23529

counseling and Testing Services

251-460-7051 | 300 Student Center Circle

student health services

251-460-7151 studenthealth@southalabama.edu

usa police department


290 Stadium Blvd., Beta Gamma Commons

patrol office


24 hour tips line


victim's advocate program

Business Hours: 251-460-7151

After Hours: 251-341-9884


Dr. portia Granger, lcsw-s

Associate Director of Sports Counseling and Performance


Todd McCall

Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Medicine



student health services at moffitt health center

118 College Drive, Hattiesburg, MS 39406


student counseling services

103 Ray Guy Way | Bond Hall South (East Entrance)

601-266-4829 | counseling@usm.edu

Emily Cabano

Sport Psychologist

512-245-2208 | emilycabano@txstate.edu

Student health center


298 Student Center Drive, San Marcos, TX 78666

Texas State University Police Department


Pecan Building | 1321 Academy St., San Marcos, TX 78666

troy university student counseling center


112 Veteran's Memorial Drive

Monday-Friday: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Troy University Student Health Center


125 Trojan Center

Monday-Friday: 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Title IX Office, Student Services


Dean Herb Reeves | 229 Trojan Center

Troy University Police

Emergency: 911

24/7 Line: 334-670-3215

500 Park Street | Joint Training Center Room 103