Getting more sleep improves performance

Introduction

Sometimes it’s just not easy to get a good nights sleep. Maybe it is stress of work, family or relationships, training too hard, something we ate or drank earlier that day that keeps the mind racing. Whatever it is, you just toss and turn and always wake up feeling tired and below par when trying to train. So how important is sleep for sports performance? While little research has been conducted on sleep and it’s relationship to sports performance, here is some recent American research that says more sleep improves performance.

The Research

Eleven healthy students on the Stanford University (USA) men’s basketball team (mean age 19.4 ± 1.4 years) maintained their normal (470 ± 66 minutes a night) sleep-wake schedule for a 2-4 week baseline period followed by a 5-7 week sleep extension period. During the extra sleep extension block, the athletes obtained as much nocturnal sleep  (624 ± 68 minutes a night) as possible with a minimum goal of 10 hours in bed each night. Measures of athletic performance specific to basketball were recorded after every practice including a timed court sprint and shooting accuracy (free throws out of 10, three-point field goals) . Reaction time, levels of daytime sleepiness, and mood were also monitored.

The Results

Total nightly sleep time increased significantly during sleep extension compared to baseline by 110.9 ± 79.7 minutes. The athletes demonstrated a faster timed sprint following sleep extension (16.2 ± 0.61 sec at baseline vs. 15.5 ± 0.54 sec at end of sleep extension). Shooting accuracy improved significantly with free throw percentage increasing by 9% and 3-point field goal percentage increasing by 9.2%. Mean reaction time and the Sleepiness Scale scores decreased following sleep extension and the basketballer mood state scores improved with increased vigor and decreased fatigue subscales. Subjects also reported improved overall ratings of physical and mental well-being during practices and games.

So What?

This unique study highlights the importance of quality sleep in maximising both training and playing performance – at least in young basketball players. As highlighted in Chapter 15 (Recovery Strategies for the Masters Athlete) of my book The Masters Athletesleep is crucial for recovery, performance, and maximising the immune system in older athletes. The same chapter lists the actual key strategies for getting a good night’s sleep and highlights which recovery strategies science says work and how to use them. Indeed, from a health perspective, research has shown that getting between 7-9 hours sleep a night is crucial for longevity and prevention of some chronic diseases. Click here to read more.

Source: Mah, C. and others (2011). The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. Sleep, 34(7): 943-950.