The role of sexual activity on sleep and performance in competitive athletes1 Opinion
Previous articles for Sport in Mind have focused on athlete recovery and the importance of the appropriate quality and quantity of sleep. Sleep has been outlined as being essential for physiological growth and repair, neuro-muscular performance, cognitive functioning and memory, emotional well-being and immune function. Napping has been proposed as a suitable strategy for athletes to obtain adequate rest between training sessions. This next article raises the topic of sex and explores the arguments for and against sex being detrimental for athletic performance.
An article examining the sexual encounters of the young adult population (N=38), reported most sexual encounters occurring at night between 2300 hours and 0100 hours (Refinetti, 2005). In my previous article investigating the importance and monitoring of sleep in athletes, I explain sleep duration to also be important. Engaging in sleep at this time of night is essential to ensure athletes obtain the 8 hours suggested for best recovery in this population. Coaches may have concerns with athletes compromising their sleep duration, by engaging in sex and, due to this, encourage abstinence in order for their athletes to obtain enough sleep.
Saying this, there are a number of benefits that sex provides to our quality of sleep. A recent review article investigating the role of sleep in the performance and recovery of athletes discussed factors that influence sleep quality (Venter, 2012). This review states that the effect of sexual activity on sleep has been poorly studied. The after effects of orgasm, such as relaxation, quiescence of the body, reduced tension, hypnotic effects, and sleepiness all appear to be associated with better sleep quality. Further, this review summarises a study on the effect of sexual activity on athletic performance as tending to indicate that sexual activity does not have a big effect on an athlete’s performance (Sztajzel, Periat, Marti, Krall, & Rutishauser, 2000).
Thus, although the scientific evidence is lacking in this area, it appears that sex, itself, is not detrimental to sleep in athletes. In fact, it appears that sexual activity is positively associated with better sleep quality. Athletes need to ensure that sexual activity does not lead to them to sacrifice the duration of their sleep, as athletes experiencing sleep loss will have compromised performance. Therefore, the successful monitoring of sleep quality, duration and daytime sleepiness in athletes can help to ensure that athletes are obtaining the best recovery they can, particularly in periods of high training or competition loads.
Refinetti, R. (2005). Time for sex: Nycthermeral distribution of human sex. Journal of Circadian Rhythms, 3.
Sztajzel, J., Periat, M., Marti, V., Krall, P., & Rutishauser, W. (2000). Effect of sexual activity on cycle ergometer stress parameter, on plasmatic testosterone levels and on concentration capacity. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 40(3), 233-239.
Venter, R. E. (2012). Role of sleep in performance and recovery of athletes: A review article. South African Journal for Research in Sport, Physical Education and Recreation, 34(1), 167-184.
Buy and download up to 400 infographics!Buy infographics
About Tim Lathlean
PhD Candidate, Monash Injury Research Institute: Training loads, fatigue, sleep health and injury risk #AFL