Improve Your Game with Extra Sleep

Want to improve your game?  Whether that's the game of life or sports, improving your performance is as easy as falling asleep. Read on for new research about how getting more sleep will bump up your game. 

Scientists, doctors and mothers have praised the powers of sleep for generations.  Now, researchers at Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory say that getting more sleep over an extended period of time improves athletic performance as well as mood and alertness. 

A small study, led by researcher Cheri Mah, included five members of the Stanford women's tennis team. For two to three weeks, the athletes maintained their regular schedules, sleeping and working out as usual. They took part in sprinting and hitting drills to measure their performance. Then the players were told to extend their sleep to 10 hours a night for five to six weeks. After increasing sleep, the athletes performed better on all the drills.  These results were repeated with members of the men's and women's swim teams and basketball teams and the researchers are continuing their study on other athletes as well. 

The study also monitored athletes' daytime sleepiness and weekly changes in mood and found that sleepiness and fatigue decreased significantly and mood improved with extra sleep.  Mah says,  

"Typically, many athletes accumulate a large sleep debt by not obtaining their individual sleep requirement each night, which can have detrimental effects on cognitive function, mood, and reaction time," said Mah. "These negative effects can be minimized or eliminated by prioritizing sleep in general and, more specifically, obtaining extra sleep to reduce one's sleep debt."

Why does sleep improve your game? Scientists have long struggled with why sleep is important and have many theories. The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School says energy metabolism is significantly reduced during sleep and helps us conserve energy resources. In addition many of the major restorative functions in the body like muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis, and growth hormone release occur mostly during sleep.  Neurons in the brain are able to clear adenosine (a by-product of cell activities) when we sleep.  Adenosine buildup is thought to be one factor in feeling tired or sleepy.

While Mah's research was aimed at athletes, everyone can reap the benefits of increased sleep.  Mah offers these tips to improve performance by maximizing sleep

  • Make sleep a part of your regular training regimen.
  • Extend nightly sleep for several weeks to reduce your sleep debt before competition.
  • Maintain a low sleep debt by obtaining a sufficient amount of nightly sleep (seven to eight hours for adults, nine or more hours for teens and young adults).
  • Keep a regular sleep-wake schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same times every day.
  • Take brief naps to obtain additional sleep during the day, especially if drowsy.