The importance of adequate sleep quality and duration cannot be overstated for optimum health and performance in athletes. The benefits of ample quality sleep are well documented, ranging from improved recovery to superior body composition. You must ask yourself, are my athletes getting enough sleep? How much is their performance impacted by this?
Two recent studies have investigated the effects of sleep deprivation on specific performance markers in athletes. Jarraya et al (2013) studied attentional capacities and reaction time in 12 male handball goalkeepers. Performance and cognitive tests were performed after a full sleep night, and again after two sleep deprived nights where sleep was deprived earlier or later overnight. The results showed that sleep deprivation significantly increased reaction time (slower reaction speed) and decreased levels of attention.
In another study by Reyner and Horne (2013), the effect of sleep deprivation on tennis serve accuracy was assessed in 16 tennis players (8 males, 8 females). In the sleep deprived condition, the athletes were limited to only 5 hours sleep, approximately 33% overall reduction in total sleep. To compare tennis serve accuracy, the athletes were instructed to hit a clearly outlined target on the court as many times as they could with 40 serves.
The results showed that tennis serve accuracy was significantly reduced in the sleep deprived group in both men and women. The researchers then repeated the study, but this time they gave the sleep deprived group caffeine to see if it would help compensate for the reduced sleep. The results showed that caffeine had no significant beneficial effect and the sleep deprived group still performed worse than the full sleep group.
If reaction time and accuracy are important components to your sport, this concerns you and your athletes. Smart phones, tablets, TV shows, iPod’s and so forth all compete for our athlete’s attention at night when they should be sleeping. Communicating to your athletes and their parents the effects of insufficient sleep on performance (in addition to health) is very important. Perhaps the simplest thing we can do to enhance our performance is get enough sleep.
Jarraya, M., Jarraya, S., Chtourou, H., Souissi, N., & Chamari, K. (2013). The effect of partial sleep deprivation on the reaction time and the attentional capacities of the handball goalkeeper. Biological Rhythm Research, 44(3), 503-510.
Reyner, L.A. & Horne, J. A. (2013) Sleep restriction and serving accuracy in performance tennis players, and effects of caffeine. Physiology & Behavior, 123: 93-96.