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Hoop Dreams Achieved Through Snoozing

July 6, 2011

(Ivanhoe Newswire) — Young basketball players spend hours dribbling up and down the court aspiring to NBA stardom. Now, new Stanford University School of Medicine research suggests another tactic to achieving their hoop dreams: sleep.

Cheri Mah, a researcher in the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory, has shown basketball players at the elite college level were able to improve their on-the-court performance by increasing their amount of total sleep time.

The study suggests “sleep is an important factor in peak athletic performance,” said Mah. In the paper, she and colleagues wrote “athletes may be able to optimize training and competition outcomes by identifying strategies to maximize the benefits of sleep.”

It’s no secret that lack of sleep can have negative consequences. Extensive research has shown the impact that sleep debt has on cognitive function, mood and physical performance. But, as Mah and her colleagues point out in the paper, very few studies have looked at the opposite: the effect that sleep extension can have on performance.  Few other groups have looked specifically at the effect of sleep on athletes.

While things such as nutrition and physical training are part of an athlete’s daily regimen, Mah said competitive athletes at all levels typically do not focus on optimizing their sleep and recovery. They are usually just told to get a “good night’s sleep” before a competition.
“Intuitively many players and coaches know that rest and sleep are important, but it is often the first to be sacrificed,” Mah added. “Healthy and adequate sleep hasn’t had the same focus as other areas of training for peak performance.”

The researchers asked the players to maintain their normal nighttime schedule (sleeping for six to nine hours) for two to four weeks and then aim to sleep 10 hours each night for the next five to seven weeks. During the study period, players abstained from drinking coffee and alcohol, and they were asked to take daytime naps when travel prohibited them from reaching the 10 hours of nighttime sleep.

At the end of the sleep extension period, the players ran faster 282-foot sprints (16.2 seconds versus 15.5 seconds) than they had at baseline. Shooting accuracy during practice also improved: Free throw percentages increased by 9 percent and 3-point field goal percentage increased by 9.2 percent. Fatigue levels decreased following sleep extension, and athletes reported improved practices and games.

“The athletes were training and competing during their regular season with moderate-to-high levels of daytime sleepiness and were unaware that it could be negatively impacting their performance,” she said. “But as the season wore on and they reduced their sleep debt, many athletes testified that a focus on sleep was beneficial to their training and performance.”
The findings suggest, Mah said, that it’s important for sleep to be prioritized over a long period of time, not just the night before “Game Day.” She called optimal sleep an “unrecognized, but likely critical factor in reaching peak performance.” She said the findings may be applicable to recreational athletes and those at the high school, semi-pro or professional level.

SOURCE: SLEEP, published online July 1, 2011




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