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The relationship between sleep and performance remains one of those areas in which disparate evidence and inconclusive results leave coaches and athletes to their own resources. Usually this means trial and error: people eventually will accumulate a certain experience concerning their own response to sleep deprivation in various aspects of life. Powerlifting performance is one of them.

Most of the research to this day establishes little or no correlation between acute sleep deprivation and detrimental effects on power or strength, although (frequently in the same studies) notable consequences on mood, cognitive response and fatigue are observed.

This is just another research field where the lack of familiarity of researchers with the subject leads to questionable conclusions. Anyone with even superficial knowledge of the extreme cognitive demands a powerlifting or weightlifting task represents would suspect there is something fishy with the claim according to which sleep deprivation has no observable consequence on performance.

I can understand that a sleep deprived lifter may excel in the meet day following his/her insomnia due to either excessive excitement or, more likely, to the rescuing action of some favorite pre-workout formula with a certain amount of stimulants.

Sleep deprivation protocols normalize the amount of sleep deprivation but are not concerned with the known fact that sleep requirements and response vary more than other physiological functions among humans.

Bottom line is that we’re still on our own.

Let’s see what we do know and figure if there is something of practical use for us, lifters.

First, there is evidence of immediate effect on cardio-vascular resistance and fatigue. That should lead us to suspect that a full power meet can easily be compromised by sleep deprivation since recovery will be affected.

We can also safely assume that the ability to process new information, frequently critical in competition, will be compromised.

I believe our chief concern with sleep is not the competition day, though. Sleep is a factor during preparation. And we’re not talking about the acute sleep deprivation situations of a sleepless night. Much more significant is the widespread incidence of inadequate amounts and quality of sleep a normal adult manages in urban modern societies, and this is what a powerlifter typically is.

Numbers vary according to the study, but between 1/3 to 50% of the adult population suffers some level of sleep disturbance, relevant enough to be detected by its detrimental consequences over everyday tasks. There is no reason to think such prevalence should deviate significantly among the powerlifting community. After all, we are engineers, dentists, coaches, teachers, lawyers, mothers, fathers, etc. like any other such people. We don’t have the luxury of having baby-sitters taking care of our affairs in order to be fully dedicated to training and competing. Actually, neither does the real modern professional athlete, but he will have better tools to deal with his sleep disturbances than us.

Any guess is as good as the next, but given these numbers and the vague possibility that the impact of sleep disturbance can be significant, investing in better sleep and rest quality might be equivalent or superior to the latest magic bullet from the nutriceutical market (i.e., sports supplements).

A collection of resources about the importance of sleep on athletic performance