Sleep’s contribution to athletic performance and recovery is often overlooked. Yet scientific studies have shown how important it is in preparing for sporting competitions.
A paper published in 2011 looked at the effects of increased sleep on the performance of a basketball team. The players first maintained their habitual sleep-wake schedule, then extended their sleep times to a minimum of 10 hours in bed each night. The results were impressive. After extended sleep, players demonstrated faster sprint times and improved shooting accuracy. They also reported improved overall physical and mental well being during practices and games. Another study noted similar improvements in the performance of a women’s tennis team after increased sleep times, including faster sprints and hitting more accurate shots.
It has also been shown that one night of sleep deprivation is enough to decrease endurance performance and increase an athletes’ perception of effort. Even mild sleep deprivation has been shown to affect performance, producing significant increases in heart rate and respiration.
Why should this be the case? Researchers speculate that sleep – and particularly deep sleep – helps improve athletic performance because this is the time when growth hormone is released. Growth hormone stimulates muscle growth and repair, bone building and fat burning, and generally helps athletes to recover.
So, whether you’re a budding Olympic champion or simply trying to keep fit, here are some tips to keep you at the top of your game:
Dr. Neil Stanley
Dr Neil Stanley is an independent sleep expert who has been involved in research for over 35 years. After starting out at the R.A.F. Institute of Aviation Medicine, he moved on to the University of Surrey's Human Psychopharmacology Research Unit, where he was Director of Sleep Research. Today, he travels the world lecturing on various aspects of sleep to both healthcare professionals and the public at large.