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Dr. Michael J. Breus Headshot

Sleep Better to Play Better

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Here's exactly the kind of sports story I love: a recent study revealed that additional sleep improved the performance of competitive athletes. Working with a group of collegiate basketball players, researchers at Stanford University examined the benefits of sleep on athletic performance, as well as on mood and levels of daytime sleepiness. The eleven participants in the study were members of the men's varsity basketball team at Stanford.

The athletes spent two to four weeks sleeping according to their normal schedule, in order to establish a baseline for sleep. Researchers then asked the basketball players to sleep as much as they possibly could for a period totaling five to seven weeks. The goal? To sleep for at least 10 hours per night. When the athletes weren't able to get 10 hours of sleep overnight, they took naps during the day in an effort to reach the 10 hour mark. (Sleep monitors showed the athletes actually averaged about 8.5 hours of sleep per night during the extended sleep period.) So, how did their on-court performance fare with additional sleep?

  • They ran significantly faster: In a 282-foot sprint, players shaved nearly one full second off their running time.
  • Their shooting improved dramatically: Players saw their free-throw shooting and their three-point shooting improve by 9 percent.
  • They felt less fatigue and less daytime sleepiness, and improved their reaction times.
  • They reported an improvement in their moods and their overall physical well being during both games and practice.

Researchers reported that many of the athletes involved were chronically sleep-deprived when the study began. There's some evidence that suggests it may be possible to "repay" some of your sleep debt after being deprived of sleep, and that it may be particularly effective to bank sleep ahead of time when you anticipate getting less sleep than you need. The real goal, of course, is to avoid becoming sleep deprived to begin with, by maintaining a regular sleep schedule that provides you with sufficient sleep on a daily basis.

The takeaway here is that the athletes improved their performance, and their overall sense of physical and mental well-being, when they eliminated sleep deficiencies from their routine.

This is important news for athletes at all levels in training -- sleep can help make you a better, stronger, faster, more accurate competitor. What about the rest of us? You don't have to be a world-class athlete to improve your performance in everyday life by virtue of a few additional hours of sleep. In addition to the wide range of health benefits of a full night's sleep, the amount of sleep you get has been shown to have dramatic effects on:

These are all things that can have a significant impact on your performance at work and in your personal relationships. Take a page from this playbook and commit to a healthy routine of sleep. You'll set yourself up for a win!

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD 
The Sleep Doctor™

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