The Australian Open tennis tournament is known for its late-night matches, which many Australians enjoy watching. Players consider the prime time slot on centre court a privilege and reward for their hard work. However, the lack of sleep and disrupted sleep patterns can have negative effects on players’ recovery and performance.
Sleep scientists have found that limited and disrupted sleep can impact muscle function. Sleep deprivation or repeated nights of short sleep can impair the muscles’ ability to repair and recover. Additionally, a period of sleep loss can reduce mitochondrial function in the muscles, which is essential for producing energy during exercise.
Studies have also shown that sleep loss negatively affects cognitive function and decision making, as well as athletic performance. It can reduce the quality and volume of performance, increase effort required, and impact anaerobic power and skill execution.
While exercise is generally believed to improve sleep, high-intensity exercise shortly before bed can diminish sleep quality. The impact of exercise on sleep also depends on a person’s chronotype (morning lark or evening owl). Late-night finishes in tennis matches can disrupt players’ circadian rhythm and result in disrupted and insufficient sleep.
Some strategies that players can use to handle late-night matches include napping, consuming caffeine for improved performance and alertness (although it can be detrimental to subsequent sleep), and increasing sleep duration leading up to the matches.
It remains to be seen how players like Daniil Medvedev and Aryna Sabalenka will overcome their disrupted sleep and perform at this year’s Australian Open. However, getting a good night’s sleep can certainly provide an advantage.