Sleep your way to better performance and progress

By Rob Clarke of Driven Sports

Many of us follow strict routines of eating and training in order to make the most of our gains. But how many of us follow a regimented sleeping pattern in order to maximize gains?

How many of you go to bed and wake up at the same (or similar) time each day? I understand those of you with children or those that do shift-work are concessions to this, but if you have a tendency to go to bed at varying times because of what is on TV or because of Facebook or the like, you really have no excuse. Sleep is important for normal blood-glucose control, body composition, testosterone levels, and mental sharpness. We also know that a lack of sleep reduces physical performance (which caffeine and creatine can correct).

This is all the negative consequences of sleep deprivation, but what effect would you expect to be seen from sleep extension? This is exactly what researchers at Stanford University set out to discover using eleven college basketball players. The bar was set to try and get ten hours of sleep per night, which was a big leap from the typical seven hours they’d been getting prior to the test. All in all the participants got around 110 minutes extra sleep per night, extending their slumber to around 8.5 hours. They did this for five to seven weeks. The researchers kept tabs on several indices of athletic performance. These were reaction time, sprint time (85 meters distance) and shooting accuracy. They also monitored daytime sleepiness and the moods of the players.

As expected, mood improved and daytime sleepiness decreased. Even better, the players sprint times increased by almost a full second, going from around 16.2 seconds to 15.5 seconds. Their shooting accuracy also improved by 9%. These are pretty significant effects that can be gained all from simply getting more sleep each night.

Interestingly, the players refrained from drinking coffee during the test. Given caffeine’s track record for improving cognition and physical performance I’d be interested in learning whether the combination of sleep extension with pre-training caffeine improves these numbers further.

Obviously these physical parameters are specific to basketball and not someone weight lifting to improve body composition. However this is something that still applies to non-competitive athletes. It is quite simple really – if you are performing better in the gym then you can progress faster in the gym.

Progression is key.

The important thing when it comes to sleep is to try and stick to the same sleeping profile. You may be well aware that when you let your sleep debt mount up over the week (due to TV or the internet) and then allow yourself a lie-in on the weekend you find yourself feeling even more lethargic for it.

It’s time to structure your sleep the same way you do your training and your nutrition.

Source: Mah CD; Mah KE; Kezirian EJ; Dement WC. The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. SLEEP 2011;34(7):943-950.

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