Overlooked impact of sleep can be key for athlete’s performance

(Photo courtesy Getty Images)

Athletes require peak health to perform well. While they focus on physical fitness, nutrition, mental health and wellness, one aspect of their well-being is often overlooked.

That aspect is sleep. The average person needs is seven to nine hours of sleep according to webmd.com. Athletes need more than the average amount of sleep to perform at a high level.

The average athlete sleeps eight to 10 hours a night, sometimes longer, according to sleep.org. The more sleep an athlete gets, the more time their muscles get to recover and repair.

There is a positive correlation between sleep and athletic performance.

A 2002 study by Cheri Mah on the Stanford men’s basketball team examined how additional sleep each night affected the team’s performance. Players were told to sleep six to nine hours for two to four weeks and then 10 hours for the next to five to seven weeks.

Sleeping 10 hours helped increase the 3-point and free-throw percentages of the team during practice by 9.2 and 9 percent, respectively. Players also ran 282-foot sprints 4.5 percent faster.

Before the test, Mah and her colleagues had the players fill out a questionnaire rating their overall sleepiness. The results showed most were suffering from chronic sleep loss and daytime sleepiness.

The training schedule of athletes contribute to poor sleeping habits.

Gwen Jorgensen, a two-time gold medalist in the triathlon, trains six days a week. Her routine involves 90-minute swim sessions of 3,000 to 6,000 meters along with several other pool exercises. Every afternoon she does a series of exercises on her bike.

Jorgensen functions better when she gets the right amount of rest. Her high value on sleeping contributes to her performing at a high level.

“I’ve learned to make sleep a priority by sticking to my personalized bedtime routine,” Jorgensen told the Huffington Post. “I try to go to bed by 9 p.m., keeping the room dark and the outside noise to a minimum.”

Getting the right amount of sleep at night keeps her energized as opposed to feeling lethargic when she is not getting the right amount of sleep. Jorgensen generally sleeps eight to 10 hours a night.

Dr. Mark Rosekind, a sleep specialist who has previously worked with NASA and several Olympic athletes, described the importance of sleep to the Huffington Post.

“As athletics become more and more competitive to where a millisecond can be the difference between a gold and silver medal, everyone is looking for any possible edge they can get — sleep is that edge,” Rosekind said.

Techniques that help improve sleep are taking naps, establish a sleeping schedule, avoiding sleep medication and reducing alcohol and caffeine consumption, according to Gatorade Sports Science Institute.

Taking naps help on the days when a person is not able to get enough sleep or they are simply tired. The problem with extensive napping is long naps will make you more tired and feeling groggy and sluggish.

Taking 10- to 30-minute naps can give a two- to three-hour energy boost in performance, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Sleeping well is not a replacement for other methods when it comes to improving athletic performance, but it is essential to performing at a high level.

Lamar Smith is a master’s journalism student at Arizona State University

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