Are you guilty of trying to catch some zzz’s in your horse’s stall, or yawn your way through walking the course all while sipping on your triple espresso? Whether you are an amateur athlete, professional athlete, or trainer, participating in equestrian sport is demanding and exhausting. Chances are you’ve mastered the art of walking while sleeping!

Training days are long and intense, horse show days are even longer, and add on traveling, work responsibilities, academic responsibilities, active social life, relationships, and pre-show jitters… you have a recipe for sleep deprivation.

[Read: But I Don’t Want to Go to the Gym! Fitness for Riders Who Hate Working Out]

Like any other sport equestrian athletes focus on fitness and nutrition to elevate performance, however, the importance of sleep can be undervalued. Adequate, restful sleep is a significant component in both athletic performance and recovery from training stress.

So how much sleep do we need?  Let’s first look at the amount of sleep these elite athletes get per night:

  • Lindsay Vonn (downhill skiing) = 9 hours
  • Usain Bolt (sprinter) = 8-10 hours
  • Roger Federer (tennis) = 11-12 hours
  • Michelle Wie (golf) = 12 hours

Doesn’t 12 hours of sleep sound glorious?! So how does your nightly sleep compare? The general consensus is that 7-9 hours of restful sleep is adequate for both physical and mental recovery from training stress. Ideally, you want to have enough hours of sleep that allow you to feel rested, alert, and attentive during the day.

What are the benefits of good consistent sleep patterns on my riding performance?

  • Improves your mental health & function.
    • You have a better capacity for learning. How? Your attentiveness and concentration is increased.  This is particularly important if you are trying to learn a new skill or technique in your riding or working with a new horse.
    • Your risk for depression is decreased as are your stress levels which can help decrease show nerves and anxiety.
    • You have a greater ability to problem solve and make decisions (with your emotions under control).  This is important in and out of the show ring.
  • Improves your physical recovery.
    • Long days of training and showing can cause the body to start to break down and increase the inflammatory response.  Adequate sleep promotes recovery and regeneration through hormone release to aid in muscle repair, muscle and bone growth, and injury recovery.
    • The immune system is boosted which decreases your risk of common colds or illnesses.
    • Restful sleep decreases your perceived level of effort or exertion which can make routine tasks such as mucking out a stall easier.
    • Regeneration helps to prepare the body for the next day’s training stress.
    • Adequate sleep can help you maintain a healthy body weight. Weight gain & risk of obesity increases with sleep deficiency.

In Part 2 of this sleep mini-series, we’ll look at how to actually achieve more restful sleep, and whether or not you can “catch up” on it. Stay tuned!

Meryl Wheeler is a former equestrian athlete who has a passion for physical fitness and health. As a Certified Athletic Therapist and adult educator, she brings her knowledge of the musculoskeletal system and injury prevention to create effective online strength and conditioning programs designed to help clients realize the power, opportunity, and potential they have to reach their own health and wellness goals. To learn more or learn how to enter Meryl’s 6-week Ride Strong fitness program, follow her on Facebook and Instagram

Marshall, G. J.G., & Turner, A. N. (2016). The importance of sleep for athletic performance.
Strength and Conditioning Journal, 38(1), 61–67. doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000189
Walters P.H. (2002). Sleep, the athlete and performance. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 32, 17–24.
Halson S.L. (2014). Sleep in elite athletes and nutritional interventions to enhance sleep. Sports Medicine, 44, 13–23. doi: 10.1007/s40279-014-0147-0
Newmark T. (2012). Cases in visualization for improved athletic performance. Psychiatric Annals, 42(10), 385-387.