UPDATED: July 20, 2012
Recent studies suggest that sleep is just as important to athletes’ training schedules as nutrition and physical practice, and can make a difference in peak performance.
What do studies show?
A 2011 study published in the journal SLEEP looked at 11 healthy basketball players at Stanford University. For two to four weeks the players were asked to get between six and nine hours of sleep per night, then for next five to seven weeks, to aim for 10 hours of sleep per night. During the study the players abstained from caffeine and alcohol and took daytime naps when 10 hours a night was not possible. The results showed that after getting more sleep, the players ran faster, improved shooting accuracy and experienced decreased fatigue levels. The players ran faster 282-foot sprints, improving the time from 16.2 seconds to 15.5 seconds, and increased free throw percentages by 9 percent and 3-point shot percentages by 9.2 percent. The players also reported improved performance during practice and games.
Researchers said the players likely caught up on the sleep debt they had been experiencing prior to the extended sleep hours, and that prioritizing sleep over an extended period of time-- rather than just the night before a game--is critical for peak performance.
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How much is needed to get the benefits?
According to an ESPN.com article by Zach McCann, athletes such as Roger Federer and LeBron James say they sleep 12 hours per day, and other athletes, such as Usain Bolt, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Steve Nash have said they sleep 10 hours per day. Basketball players are also known to take up to 3-hour naps before games. For the average person, getting between 7 to 9 hours a night has been found to boost memory and mood, but sleep experts stop short of saying it would result in improvements at the gym, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
How does lack of sleep negatively affect athletes?
Two recent studies that were presented at the SLEEP 2012 conference looked at a link between professional football and baseball players’ longevity and their degree of daytime sleepiness. The football study looked at 55 college players who were drafted to play in the NFL. They found that players who were more tired during the day had a 38 percent chance of staying with the team that originally drafted them, whereas 56 percent of the less tired athletes stayed with the original team.
In the baseball study researchers looked at the sleepiness of 40 randomly selected MLB players and found that those who said they were tired during the day had attrition rates of 57 percent to 86 percent, which is significantly higher than the MLB averages of 30 to 35 percent. Researchers said that correcting underlying sleep issues could prolong a pro-athlete’s career, and measuring player sleepiness also could be a useful tool in determining who will be a productive player.