You’re an athlete, and you’re looking to get a competitive edge however you can. You take the right supplements, hit the gym religiously, and watch what you eat. But did you know that there’s one huge area of your life off the field that can transform your performance on the field? It’s sleep, and get this: you’re probably not doing it right. Sleep is something that everyone does, but not equally, and finding a way for athletes and sleep to work together for elite athletic performance is at the very forefront of sports science.
New studies are coming out every day about the link between athletes and sleep. In fact, it’s becoming a billion dollar industry, with professional sports franchises investing in the sleep hygiene of their players to help these athletes recover, perform, and even prevent injury. Whether you’re a professional athlete, or someone just looking to get the most out of their body, here’s how athletes and sleep work together to do the impossible.
You’ll Have Improved Reaction Times
A split second on the court can be all the difference in making a play or totally blowing it. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your reaction time can seriously suffer. Some studies have shown that sleep deprivation can reduce your reaction time by more than 300% — that’s the equivalent of having four alcoholic drinks. Don’t do this to your body. We now know that athletes and sleep are linked through their development of fast-twitch motor movements and other physiological processes that desperately need sleep to develop. It’s like working and resting a muscle — and that muscle is your brain.
You’ll be Injured Less Often — and Recover Faster
When you don’t sleep, your body produces more cortisol, which can increase inflammation and lead to more injuries. Not sleeping also compromises your immune system and can lead to you missing time due to flu bugs and other preventable illness. Third, athletes and sleep are linked like this: the more you sleep, the more time your body has to regenerate cells and repair tissue that’s gone through workouts, games, and training. When you sleep more, your body is less likely to be injured and will recover faster when those injuries occur.
You’ll (Literally) Be Faster
This might sound crazy, but it’s true. A Stanford study of athletes and sleep showed that basketball players who slept more not only shot the ball better but actually ran faster and perform in specific measures that can be quantified on the court.
“Measures of athletic performance specific to basketball were recorded after every practice including a timed sprint and shooting accuracy,” the study reports. “Subjects demonstrated a faster-timed sprint following sleep extension. Shooting accuracy improved, with free throw percentage increasing by 9% and 3-point field goal percentage increasing by 9.2%. Improvements in specific measures of basketball performance after sleep extension indicate that optimal sleep is likely beneficial in reaching peak athletic performance. ”
How Much Sleep Do You Need if You’re an Athlete?
Your average person needs between 7-9 hours of sleep, but if you’re an athlete this probably isn’t enough. An athlete in training needs at least an hour more per day, and that number can be pushed an additional hour or two on days when you compete. This doesn’t have to be all at once. It might not be easier for you to sleep earlier, but taking an afternoon nap is a great way to get your body that extra time it needs for recovery.
That’s not to say that you should take three-hour naps all at once. Athletes and sleep have a complex relationship, and doing a big chunk like that in the middle of the day can mess up the rest of your sleep schedule. Cheryl Mah, a former Stanford scientist and current sleep specialist for the championship Golden State Warriors, says that scheduling out these naps is key to getting the energy boost you want.
“Particularly in the NBA you’ll hear many players taking one hour, two-hour, three-hour pre-game naps,” said Mah in a recent interview. “You want to keep naps short. You want to keep them under 30 minutes because that keeps you in lighter stages of sleep to give you that energy and performance boost,” Mah said
The Best Training Equipment You Need is a Good Bed
All sleep isn’t equal. If you’re sleeping on an old, dumpy mattress, it’s the equivalent of working out in crummy running shoes. Worse actually, because you’re spending at least seven hours a night on your mattress. When you sleep on a poor mattress, you stay in the early stages of sleep and don’t allow your body to enter into its REM cycle, which is crucial to the body’s recovery process. Don’t let yourself be hamstrung before you even step on the field, sleeping will give you a competitive advantage that will leave the competition in the dust. Your dreams of victory will manifest in real life, the irony is that you just need more sleep to do that.