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Sleep more, play better

Guides — Posted 06/12/13

How sleeping can improve your sports and exercise performance.

No matter what your sport of choice, if you want to be faster, better and stronger, sleep might just be the performance enhancer your need. 

It’s well known that a good night’s sleep has benefits to your mental and physical health. Everything from stress management to weight loss can be helped along by getting regular, quality sleep. Research has found that sleeping well can lower your risk of heart disease, improve your memory and concentration, boost your immunity and improve your mood. For athletes – whether sport is your life passion, or you just like a little friendly competition – making sure you get enough rest can also give you the edge you need to perform at your best. 

One of the leaders in sleep-sport performance connection research, Stanford University’s Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, spent several years conducting studies with groups of Stanford student-athletes to test the effect of extended sleep on their performance. What they found was improvements across each sporting field when athletes increased their sleep goal to 10 hours a night. Tennis players increased their serve accuracy. Football players ran faster. Basketball players improved their shooting. Swimmers left the blocks faster, swam faster and improved their turn times. Outside of their athletic performance, they also reported higher energy levels, improved mood and reduced daytime fatigue.

These results have been supported by a huge number of scientific studies around the world. Fatigue Science reports that:

  • By incorporating adequate sleep into their routine, tennis players get a 42 per cent boost in hitting accuracy. 
  • Sleep can improve split-second decision making ability by 4.3 per cent.
  • Two days of reduced sleep can lead to a threefold increase in lapses of attention and reactivity.
  • More sleep resulted in swimmers improving reaction times off the starting block by 17 per cent.
  • Roger Federer gets 11 to 12 hours sleep per night.
  • Lebron James gets 12 hours of sleep per night.

 

The benefits of sleep

There are several reasons why sleep is beneficial for sports performance.

Sleep gives you cognitive benefits. Memory, reaction time and concentration are all important in many sports. When you are sufficiently rested, your brain works more effectively, helping you to focus on the task at hand, respond quickly and accurately to cues, and make split-second decisions.

Sleep helps your muscles to recover. While you sleep, your cells are busy regenerating and repairing themselves. Not having enough sleep, on the other hand, has been shown to hinder muscle recovery.

Sleep lowers your stress. A lack of sleep can affect your mood and make you more likely to become stressed and anxious, which naturally affects your sports performance. The stress hormone cortisol also increases your risk of injury and slow down healing.

Sleep gives you more energy. When you are sleep deprived, your body’s ability to store glycogen is reduced. This is energy you need to keep powering through endurance tests.  

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