When coaches think of an intervention to enhance physical performance in their athletes, they would most often come up with some type of “sport-specific” workout regiment or various technical or tactical drills. Certainly, these types of interventions can absolutely result in meaningful performance improvements. However, there may be some more passive interventions that coaches can implement with their teams that may have a much more profound effect on performance than they would have originally thought. The concept of sleep extension, or increasing sleep duration time to improve performance seems obvious. But just how much can increasing sleep time affect performance? And how long should we be encouraging our athletes to sleep to derive the performance enhancing benefits?
A recent study from the Stanford Sleep Clinic was published in the journal “Sleep” and investigates the impact of sleep extension on physical and technical performance markers in athletes. A sample of 11 NCAA collegiate basketball players from the Stanford University men’s basketball team volunteered as participants. For a 2-4 week period, baseline sleep characteristics were monitored to determine typical sleep and wake times, sleep duration, etc. Following baseline, all subjects participated in a 5-7 week sleep extension period where they were given a goal of staying in bed for a minimum of 10 hours each night. Athletic performance variables including sprinting speed, shooting accuracy (free-throws and 3-point shot attempts), reaction time, levels of daytime sleepiness and overall mood were monitored throughout the study period.
The results showed that total objective sleep time significantly increased during the intervention period by an average of nearly 2 hours. In addition, sprint times demonstrated a significant improvement following sleep extension (4.5% average reduction in sprint time). Both free-throw and 3-point shot accuracy significantly improved by 9% and 9.2%, respectively. Significant improvements were also observed for reaction time and perceptions of daytime sleepiness (both decreased). Other subjective indicators also improved, including increased vigor, decreased fatigue and overall improvements in mental and physical well-being during training and competition. The authors conclude that increasing sleep duration may be a key factor for optimizing athletic performance in basketball players.
Cheri D. Mah, MS, Kenneth E. Mah, MD, MS, Eric J. Kezirian, MD, MPH, William C. Dement, MD, PhD; The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players. Sleep 2011; 34 (7): 943-950. doi: 10.5665/SLEEP.1132