Eating right, training hard and staying focused is not enough to reach the apex of your athletic performance. Sleep is one of the most neglected aspects of sports performance. Unhelpful phrases like “sleeping is for the weak” have undermined the importance sleep holds on one’s physiology and cognitive functions, both of which are crucial for an athlete. Elite level athletes recognize the important role sleep plays in their performance.
Serena Williams said that she sleeps well and goes to bed early around 7 p.m. The legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong has also added a LiveStrong dare on his website, encouraging people to get at least six to eight hours of good quality sleep. Getting an adequate amount of sleep does not merely stem from traditional sports practices carried forward by top tier athletes, there are various studies that say sleep is an influential factor that not only affects the quality of training but can also influence the recovery process of the body.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways sleep can enhance your sports performance
1. Better reaction times
Sometimes, a reaction that is even a fraction of second late can make or break it for you during a game. Having good reflexes and reaction times is always a beneficial factor for sportsmen. However, sleep deprivation has been established to reduce reaction times by more than 300%. For athletes who are sleep deprived, recovery time is longer too. In fact, some studies suggest that even low levels of fatigue can impair one’s reaction time as much as their being legally drunk. This clearly depicts a strong correlation between cognitive process, physiological functions and sleep.
2. Long careers
An extensive study carried out on MLB players shows that fatigue can actually shorten the careers of professional athletes. Data showed there is an astoundingly linear relationship between sleep deprivation and the longevity of a professional athlete’s career. Therefore, not getting enough sleep will not just make you groggy headed the next day, it will have lasting long term effects on your athletic performance. Experts are already looking into the possibility of using the science of sleep to predict sports performance.
3. Reduced rate of injury
There have been numerous studies that all point to the increased likelihood of injuries due to sleep deprivation. It has been observed that, athletes who get less than 6 hours of sleep the night before have higher injury rates than those who sleep well. Additionally, the duration of sleep that young athlete receive the night before a game, has also been seen to be the strongest predictor of injuries. This effect can be due to a number of reasons. Firstly, as aforementioned, sleep deprivation takes a huge toll on reaction times so sleep deprived athletes are less likely to react to a potential hit in time, increasing their chances of injury. Additionally, sleep deprivation also causes a reduced production of cytokines which is an important pathogen fighting component of the immune system, leaving players more susceptible to illnesses. Furthermore, the wear and tear from training is healed during sleep. When an athlete is sleep deprived, they do not fully recover from the exhaustive workouts and games which contributes to more time spent on the bench.