Sleep like a Lioness: ex-England footballer shares her sleep rules for peak sporting performance

Anita Asante shares the sleep routine she used to stay at the top of her game

Footballer Anita Asante in front of a selection of football shirts
(Image credit: Anita Asante)

The Lionesses are at the top of their game, but what's the secret to ensuring peak performance on the pitch? According to Anita Asante, who amassed 71 international caps during her time with the England squad, a great sleep routine is absolutely vital. Sports scientists agree: sleep is a vital tool for elite performance. It's essential for effective recovery as well as to maintain mental and physical fitness, but it can be a particular challenge in the run-up to a big game. 

"Studies have shown there is a clear link between sport performance and quality of sleep, but in the lead-up to big events, athletes often have a reduction in sleep quality because of nerves, anxiety, and stress," explains Hannah Shore, Sleep Knowledge and Researcher Manager at Silentnight. Below, you can read about the routine Anita adopted during her time as a pro footballer, in order to maintain a great sleep routine, whatever else was going on during the day.

These tips are great for sportspeople or anyone who regularly needs their body working at its absolute best... but they're also great for anyone dealing with a hectic lifestyle or periods of disruption. So even if you yourself aren't currently gearing up for a Euros final, there's plenty here that's worth considering.

"This isn't only relevant to athletes, but applicable to everyday life," reiterates Hannah. "Have a big meeting at work? Follow her tips and give yourself the best chance of getting a good night’s sleep." 

Read on for Anita's rules for how to sleep like a football pro, shared via Silentnight. For more tips, check out how to fall asleep quickly or how to sleep when it's hot. Or, if you feel like it's your bed that's keeping you up, head to T3's best mattress guide.

Rule #1. Lock in 9 hours a night

"I always tried to get to bed at 10.30pm each night and wake up around 7.30am each morning, giving me a solid nine hours of sleep – which I found was the perfect amount to perform at my peak," says Anita. As well as providing enough rest-and-recover time, that routine also helped provide some stability in an otherwise hectic schedule. "As an international footballer there was often an awful lot going on at once, from media duties to training and family, so developing a reliable routine that I could depend on night after night was key."

Rule #2. No tech 30 mins before bed

Many sleep experts suggest avoiding screens directly before bed because the blue light they give off can prevent your body from winding down, ready for sleep. But Anita has a different reason for putting away her devices in the evenings. 

"In this day and age there are 101 distractions that can easily take your attention away from what you should be focusing on. At the very top of the list is technology, whether that’s your phone, iPad or the TV," she explains. "In my days playing for the England women's team, I made sure I switched everything off 30 minutes before bed. That was valuable time to help me dial in on what I really need to focus on at the end of the day – which was usually going over plans to stop a pacey forward running around me."

Rule #3. Bring your own pillows when travelling

As a professional sportswoman, Anita spent an awful lot of time jet-setting around the world and sleeping in hotels, which has potential to wreak havoc on a sleep schedule. To counteract that, she developed ways to make her nights on the road feel more like home. "I always [made] wherever I was staying feel homely and zen, by adding personal touches like bringing my own pillows and spraying my lavender mist. I’m sure today’s Lionesses do the same and many of them will have their own home comforts in their hotel rooms now," she says. 

Rule #4. Get 30 minutes of fresh air a day

"Sadly, I’ve suffered a few injuries during my career, and I can tell that being cooped at home with an ailment does no good for your sleep routine," says Anita. "I noticed that not spending time outside the house left me feeling agitated, especially at night time." Now she aims to get at least 30 minutes of fresh air every day, even if that's just from popping out for a quick stroll.

Rule #5. Dine on plain food and avoid alcohol

Soothe that stomach. To perform at your physical peak as a professional athlete, it’s vital to get a long, uninterrupted sleep. As we all know, booze and junk food can wreak havoc after the light goes out at night. That’s why the evening before a big game I avoid alcohol and rich food. If today’s Lionesses are like me, they will dine on pasta with some sort of protein before matches at this year’s EURO 2022.

Ruth Hamilton

Ruth is a lifestyle journalist specialising in sleep and wellbeing. She has tested more mattresses than her small flat can handle and will talk at length about them to anyone who shows even a passing interest, and has had to implement a one-in-one-out pillow policy for fear of getting smothered in the night. As well as following all the industry trends and advancements in the mattress and bedding world, she regularly speaks to certified experts to delve into the science behind a great night's sleep, and offer you advice to help you get there. She's currently Sleep Editor on Tom's Guide and TechRadar, and prior to that ran the Outdoors and Wellness channels on T3 (now covered by Matt Kollat and Beth Girdler-Maslen respectively).