There is a fascinating article in the July edition of the Sleep Journal about how sleeping longer can improve athletic performance. Sleep researchers have documented how sleep deprivation can negatively impact cognitive performance like memory and reaction time as well as mood. Some sleep deprivation studies have even shown that sleep loss can impair weight-lifting and cardiopulmonary functioning. However, there have been few studies about the effect of sleeping longer on athletic performance. The authors of this study believe that the vast majority of college students, especially athletes, suffer from chronic sleep deprivation due to academic, athletic, and social demands on their time - and this sleep debt could impact athletic performance.
In this study, the 11 subjects were college basketball players at Stanford University. They kept their normal sleep times of 6-9 hours per night for 2-4 weeks at baseline. Researchers than had them extend their sleep duration to a minimum of 10 hours of sleep per night for 5-7 weeks. While traveling, participants were allowed to nap during the daytime if their schedule did not allow them to sleep the full 10 hours at night. The sleep extension aspect occurred during the regular basketball season.
Sleep times were measured subjectively by sleep diaries and objectively by a home sleep monitor worn on the wrist. Athletic performance was measured by a timed sprint and free throw and 3 point accuracy. All performance measures were performed after each regular practice session in the late afternoon. Reaction time was also measured twice daily by a hand-held computer device. Daytime sleepines and mood were recorded with subjective questionnaires.
The results showed that the players increased objective sleep time by 111 minutes during the sleep extension time period. Reaction time improved significantly during the sleep extension portion compared to the baseline. Daytime sleepiness went from a level that is considered borderline sleepy to completely normal during the sleep extension. Mood, self-perception, and subjective performance during practices and games all improved with sleep extension.
The authors pointed out that the athletes were able to fulfill their typical personal, work, and training obligations while also extending their total sleep time, meaning that sleep extension is a realstic option to improve performance. Also, the authors felt that the athletic performance measures (sprint time and shooting accuracy) got better from more sleep, rather than more practice, because they chose performance measures that were very familiar to the athletes and who had become quite proficient at them prior to the onset of the study. The authors did point out that this was a small study with no matched controls.
In conclusion, the results of this study demonstrate that increased sleep durations in college athletes can significantly improve athletic performance, overall well-being, and mental performance. Since the mental aspect to training and competition is so important, the results of this study are even more impressive. Perhaps more sleep will become an integral factor along with nutrition, conditioning, and coaching in enhancing athletic peformance.