Sleep Health

How tennis champions feel about sleep


As the world’s top tennis players converge for the Australian Open in Melbourne this week, many of them will be aiming to serve up victory in their first match and maintain a consistent standard of play throughout the tournament. With lengthy matches and short breaks between games, the ability to unwind and rest becomes essential if they want to advance through to the later stages.  

For Melbourne Park’s most dominant player and nine-time Australian Open champion, Novak Djokovic, quality sleep has always been one of his secrets for success. 


Relationship Between Nutrition and Sleep

In his 2013 book, Serve to Win, Djokovic not only attributes his physical stamina to his well-known gluten-free diet but also credits it for improvements in his sleep and mental clarity. That’s why he makes it an absolute priority to go to bed at the same time every night, using yoga and meditation to unwind before sleeping around 11pm and rising at 7am the next morning. 

“I’m serious. I treat sleep with as much respect as I treat food, or my training schedule, or my rivals. It’s that important,” Djokovic writes. 

Indeed, it’s this extraordinary preparation that has led him to the top of the men’s game for more than 10 years and counting.  


Recommended Sleep Hours

Another tennis player who loves his sleep is Olympic gold medalist, Alexander Zverev, who claimed sleeping is his favourite pastime. The player, who typically attempts to get at least 12 hours of sleep per day, declared, "I'm a long sleeper." 

There is a strong consensus that getting at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night is advised for any adult wanting to perform at their best. This is the length of time required to get enough REM and deep sleep says Dr Carmel Harrington, a sleep health expert for ResMed.  

 "During sleep, and specifically deep sleep, the body secretes growth hormone which allows for the building, repairing and restoration of muscle," Harrington adds. 

According to research, even one night of partial sleep deprivation can impair athletes in activities where accuracy is essential. Indeed, one 2013 study tracked the impact of reduced sleep on the serving accuracy in tennis players. It found that when they cut the players' sleep to four to five hours, their serving accuracy fell by up to 53%.

It’s perhaps why even the staunchest of night owls, 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams, was so irritable when kept up late for a press conference. When a reporter asked a tired-looking Williams why she wasn’t her usual smiling self at the end of a match, she replied, “It’s 11:30pm. To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t want to be here. I just want to be in bed right now, and I have to wake up early to practice.” 

Even casual spectators will know that tennis players are notorious for losing their composure on the court as their arousal levels surge, breaking equipment like rackets, and getting verbally abusive to the umpires. Therefore, it follows that whatever efforts players make to manage stress better would improve their game. 

More and more athletes are now seeking advice from sleep specialists, and when you consider the amount of good sleep can do for your physical and mental performance. A few hours of sleep could be the difference between victory and defeat.


Advice for Spectators 

Are you a tennis fan staying up late to watch the Australian Open?  Some evening matches in Melbourne can lead to a few late nights. And as the championship progresses, these matches can stretch well past midnight. Head on to our Australian Open sleep survival guide to get key sleep advice from our fellow ResMedians.


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Reyner LA, Horne JA. "Sleep restriction and serving accuracy in performance tennis players, and effects of caffeine." Physiol. Behav. 2013; 120:93-6.

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