Sleep, Nutrition and the High Performance Brain – blog by Stewart Cotterill

Professor Stewart Cotterill is Head of School for Rehabilitation, Sport and Psychology at AECC University College, and a Professor of Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology.

He has over 15 years’ experience as a consultant psychologist across a wide range of professional/amateur sports, as well as across a broad range of performance domains.

In this extract from a blog from his own website, Think Performance, Stewart explains what makes sleep and nutrition so fundamental to building a high-performance brain. He shares why it’s important to ensure a strong foundation of good quality sleep and a nutritionally-rich diet before focusing on specific performance psychology-focused interventions.

He tells us:

“So much of performance is actually brain (mental) performance, either consciously or sub-consciously. It therefore makes sense to do what we can to ensure the brain is in the best state to be able to perform at its best.”


“We can probably best understand the importance of sleep by looking at what happens to the brain when we don’t get enough.

“Lack of sleep can lead to increased distractibility, impaired performance on focusing tasks, a greater likelihood for risk-taking, reduced working memory capacity, decreased psychomotor performance, and symptoms that can be similar to ADHD.

“All adults need between seven and nine hours sleep a night. What’s more, quality of sleep is also important: with a blend of the different stages of sleep (i.e., Non-REM stages 1-4, and REM sleep) crucial for healthy functioning and recovery.

“We know that sleep leads to many positive outcomes including cardiovascular health, cognitive functioning, healthy ageing and lengthened lifespan, greater capacity for learning, creativity, enhanced mood and stress management, and enhanced mental health and wellbeing.

“Sleep quality and sleep hygiene (steps to maximise sleep) should therefore be a core consideration for all performance psychologists.”


“A balanced diet is also essential for a high performance brain, as the brain is highly active and requires a constant supply of glucose (sugar) and oxygen to meet its energy needs.

“The ‘burning’ of this fuel in the brain requires several vitamins, including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid. Certain minerals, such as magnesium, iron, and manganese, are also needed to complete the burning of glucose to produce energy for the brain.

“Eating a balanced, nutrient-rich diet is crucial if you want to maximise your brain’s ability to function optimally, and crucially to be able to perform well under pressure or where high levels of mental performance are required.”

You can read more from Stewart on his blog, Think Performance.