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Can Sleeping More Make You a Better Athlete?

Getting the sleep you need can have a huge impact on your athletic performance (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Getting the sleep you need can have a huge impact on your athletic performance (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Over the past few years, research has shown again and again that exercising can help you sleep but a new book called “Sleep to Win!” flips that finding on its head.  The book looks at how sleeping more affects athletic performance and seeks to determine if more sleep can make athletes perform better.

According to the authors, Haley Davis and James Maas, Ph. D., sleeping more improves athletic performance.  Their findings are based on work conducted with professional athletes who consistently found that getting a little more sleep, even as little as one extra hour a day, yielded measurable gains in performance.  This conclusion aligns with the opinions and findings of other sleep experts who agree that sleep matters when it comes to performing on the field.

One of the most interesting points made by the authors is that sleep may actually be more beneficial in enhancing performance than additional practice time.  When teams that practiced twice a day with one early morning practice cut their morning practice to enable team members to sleep in, the team performed better than when they skipped the extra hour of sleep in favor of more practice time.  This finding has had real world implications for professional sports teams like the NY Jets who have modified their entire schedule to enable players to get more sleep.

The key seems to be getting enough sleep every night and adding an hour of sleep on days when performance matters most.  These two sleep habits together enabled even pro and Olympic level athletes to run faster, jump higher, react faster, and play better than before.   According to Maas, while sleep is known to have a positive effect on cognitive memory and function, it also seems to help with muscle memory but you need to be sleeping for at least 7 hours to get that benefit.  Because many people, including athletes, tend to sacrifice sleep to accommodate impossible schedules, they aren’t able to perform as well as they could.  The key is making sleep a priority and accepting that sacrificing sleep in order to do other things can have a detrimental effect on how you perform not just mentally, but physically as well.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night.  If you are getting less than that, committing to getting an adequate amount of sleep every night is the first step to being all that you can be.  If you are struggling with sleep, talk to your doctor to see if there is a medical condition or sleep disorder that is causing the problem.  You should also look for habits and activities that can keep you from getting the sleep you need like drinking caffeine later in the day, exercising at night or not exercising at all, or taking your laptop or tablet to bed.  Cutting back on these sleep stealing activities can make a real difference in the quality and quantity of sleep you get on an average night.

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