The top athletes and players in the world all spend countless hours on the training field, practicing set-plays, improving techniques, increasing aerobic performance, repeating patterns of play, while also increasing strength in the gym and recovering from injuries at the physiotherapist. Yet one of the most vital elements of an athlete’s routine is usually the most underestimated and overlooked aspect….sleep.
Sleep can benefit an athlete in so many ways and have an effect on many different areas of performance. In essence, the most effortless activity an athlete can partake in, can be one of the most beneficial. This may sound like an absurd statement, yet looking at sleep more analytically, we notice the advantages that it can produce.
Stanford University were one of the pioneering institutions to investigate this fact – They found that those athletes who successfully attempted to get 10 hours of sleep per night over a period of 5 weeks had better sprint times, more accurate shooting, improved mood and alertness across a number of team and individual sports. They also found that looking at the flip side of this, a lack of sleep or “sleep debt” as it is known can negatively affect performance by reducing cognitive function, mood and reaction time.
Even looking at the more minute scientific details shows us how a lack of sleep can cause a reduction in the human growth hormone (which facilitates tissue and muscle repair), while increasing cortisol – which is more commonly known as a stress hormone. As done here by Washington State University.
So now we can see that sleep quantity is of huge importance to athletes. Yet, as any college student who writes an assignment knows – you must have quality along with quantity. There is no use in staying in bed for 10 hours if you are not sleeping for those 10 hours. There are many tips and tricks to help achieve this, like going to bed and getting up at the same time, keeping the room dark, wearing ear plugs where necessary, avoid watching TV in bed, avoid caffeine before sleep, avoid long naps during the day etc.
It’s apparent that a long uninterrupted sleep of about 8-10 hours is quite advantageous to any athlete or player of any sport. So the next time your coach, your housemate (or even you mum!) tells you to go to bed, listen to them, it could be the difference between first and second place.