While the latest sports supplement or protein drink can make outlandish claims about improving performance, the real powerhouse to improving performance and reducing injury is sleep. In 2012, a study was done with teenage athletes and it was concluded that athletes who slept less than 8 hours a night were significantly more likely to be injured. The fascinating part was that many other factors were taken into consideration – gender, hours played per week, strength training among others – and only sleep was a variable that actually was proven to have a significant outcome.
Other sleep studies have been done to show how pro athletes are more successful with more sleep and how college basketball players can improve on court performance by getting 10 hours of sleep. The NFL has taken notice and in 2013, the Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll began using sleep training to help his players reach their highest athletic potential. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl that season!
Through all the articles I’ve read (check the hyperlinks!) and consulting with a sleep expert, there are a couple key factors for athletes to consider.
- Same time EVERY day: In order to get into a sleep rhythm, getting up at the same time each day is important. It creates a schedule for your body. So if you’re searching for more sleep, you don’t want to sleep in, but rather go to bed earlier and maintain that same wake time.
- 10-6 > 12-8 (not all “8 hours” are the same): Your body is more ready to shut down between 10-11pm and is better prepared to enter into the REM sleep cycle.
- Big Sleep – Big Gains: The majority of your body’s recovery chemicals are released at night. However, if you don’t reach the deeper levels of sleep (REM sleep), the amount of chemicals released will be reduced.
- No screens: The blue light emitted from cell phones, TVs, laptops and tablets tricks the brain into staying awake. When used immediately before bed, it delays the person’s ability to fall asleep and again, affects the quality of sleep that you get.
The sticking point with today’s athletes is not understanding that sleep is critical to performance. The other sticking point is whether they believe the benefits of good sleep outweigh the benefits of interacting on social media or watching Netflix to cap off their night. Much like diet and exercise, seeing the benefits of sleep can only be seen by a long-term commitment. One night simply will not do.
In this phase of your life, “accepting the risk of leadership” will demand purposeful planning and commitment. Fortunately, the choice will require minimal sacrifice in exchange for what you’ll gain in return. True leaders, after all, don’t think twice about sacrificing what is desired in the moment (sleeping in, the next “big” update on social media), to accomplish what they’ve dreamed about and worked so hard for (conference championship, playoff birth, state title, college scholarship).