The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Rock Climbing Performance

I logged about five hours of sleep per night for three nights in a row after a recent holiday weekend. The first night followed an intense day of climbing at my limit followed by a hard training session; the next two days were rest days — one with light cardio, and one of total rest. My next climbing day, I found that my body was less responsive and more sluggish than usual after two days off. I also felt irritable and got more pumped.

The culprit? Sleep deprivation, of course. Intrigued as always by the prospect of exploring the details of yet another piece of the sports performance puzzle, I sought out to learn more about the effects of not enough sleep on athletes and athletic recovery.

What Happens When You Don’t Sleep Enough?

According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), no matter what activity you’re performing during the day, getting enough sleep the night before is crucial. The NSF explains that when you don’t sleep enough, your body’s levels of stress hormones rise while its glycogen replenishment — or the storage of carbohydrates in muscles for future activity — slows. Sleep deprivation can also slow your reaction time, which is often a critical component of climbing a hard route successfully.

A study by the University of Auckland’s Department of Sport and Exercise Science concluded that a lack of sleep significantly impacted muscle recovery in terms of strength and power. The researchers theorized that the slowdown of glycogen storage is likely resposible for this effect. Athletes also demonstrated poorer pacing skills after sleep deprivation.

How Much Sleep Should You Get for Top Performance?

While I wasn’t surprised to learn of the effects of sleep deprivation on athletic performance, given my recent day of flailing on moves that I normally feel fine on, I was surprised to learn how much sleep seems optimal for top athletic performance. From what the studies say, it appears that 10 hours of nightly slumber may be the preferred goal for athletes. Sound like too much? Consider the following:

  • The July , 2017 issue of the journal “Sleep” reported that collegiate basketball players who increased their nightly sleep to a minimum of 10 hours experienced significant improvements in sprint time, reaction time, accuracy, and self-reported physical and mental well-being. Researchers concluded that “optimal sleep is likely beneficial in reaching peak athletic performance.”
  • Earlier studies on both swimmers and football players posted similar results, with both groups of collegiate athletes experiencing marked improvements after increasing their nightly sleep to a minimum of 10 hours, as reported in the  “Science Daily” and by “Sleep Review.”

Sleep More for Better Rock Climbing Performance

Sleep deprivation clearly has negative implications for athletes seeking peak performance, but how much sleep isn’t enough? According to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night for optimal daytime functioning. However, research on sports performance suggests that athletes, including rock climbers, may experience significant physical and mental benefits by aiming for a minimum of 10 hours of sleep per night.


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