Posted on

Extra Sleep Improves Athletic Performance

Participants in this ongoing study were five healthy students on the Stanford University men’s and women’s swimming teams. For the first two weeks of the study, the students maintained their usual sleep-wake pattern. The athletes then extended their sleep to 10 hours per day for six to seven weeks.

Athletic performance was assessed after each regularly scheduled swim practice. After obtaining extra sleep, athletes swam a 15-meter meter sprint 0.51 seconds faster, reacted 0.15 seconds quicker off the blocks, improved turn time by 0.10 seconds and increased kick strokes by 5.0 kicks.

“These results begin to elucidate the importance of sleep on athletic performance and, more specifically, how sleep is a significant factor in achieving peak athletic performance,” said lead author Cheri Mah of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory. “While this study focuses specifically on collegiate swimmers, it agrees with data from my other studies of different sports and suggests that athletes across all sports can greatly benefit from extra sleep and gain the additional competitive edge to perform at their highest level.”

The study also monitored daytime sleepiness and weekly changes in mood. Daytime sleepiness decreased significantly with extra sleep, while mood improvements related to getting extra sleep included higher ratings of vigor and lower ratings of fatigue.

“Typically, many athletes accumulate a large sleep debt by not obtaining their individual sleep requirement each night, which can have detrimental effects on cognitive function, mood, and reaction time,” said Mah. “These negative effects can be minimized or eliminated by prioritizing sleep in general and, more specifically, obtaining extra sleep to reduce one’s sleep debt.”

Mah and colleagues reported similar results in a previous study of six players on the Stanford men’s basketball team. Performance measures such as sprint times and free-throw shooting improved after extra sleep, as did ratings of mood and alertness. The research abstract was presented at SLEEP 2007 in Minneapolis, Minn.

Over the years Mah also has worked with the football, tennis, golf, cross country, and track and field teams at Stanford. Now she hopes to expand the project to work with athletes at other colleges, as well as professional athletes who are seeking a unique competitive advantage.

“It is interesting to note that many of the athletes in the various sports I have worked with, including the swimmers in this study, have set multiple new personal records and season best times, as well as broken long-standing Stanford and American records while participating in this study,” she said.

According to Mah, coaches at Stanford have been paying close attention to their athletes’ involvement in the ongoing study.

“Many of the Stanford coaches are definitely more aware of the importance of sleep,” she said. “Coaches have even started to make changes to their practice and traveling schedules to allow for proper sleep habits. For many athletes and coaches, this study was the first time they truly understood how large of an impact sleep can have on their performance and results.”

Mah offers these tips to help athletes improve their performance by maximizing their sleep:

  • Make sleep a part of your regular training regimen.
  • Extend nightly sleep for several weeks to reduce your sleep debt before competition.
  • Maintain a low sleep debt by obtaining a sufficient amount of nightly sleep (seven to eight hours for adults, nine or more hours for teens and young adults).
  • Keep a regular sleep-wake schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same times every day.
  • Take brief naps to obtain additional sleep during the day, especially if drowsy.
Posted on

Successful Sport Task Management Part 2: Regeneration and Sleep

We look at regeneration as the ability to recover from a given session, training phase or season and then be ready to move on to the next level.  Regenerative methods can include a wide variety of specific measures (sauna, massage, Epsom salt bath, etc) and for our purpose of moving from general to specific, we will focus on the two main influences on Regeneration – sleep and nutrition (nutrition in Part 3).

Sleep is an often overlooked performance requirement.  And yes, quality sleep is a requirement for improving performance levels.  Sound sleep promotes optimal hormone production and release as well as critical downtime for both the athlete’s body and mind.  These factors that occur during sleep (not during “rest”) allow for full use of the nutrition and training efforts accomplished by the athlete, which fosters higher-level recovery (regeneration!).

Athletes simply must get enough quality sleep to foster solid regeneration.  We recommend a total of 8 plus hours per night and upward of 60 hours per week of quality sleep.  If 8 hours plus per night is not possible and the athlete is not achieving 60 plus hours of sleep per night – we strongly recommend taking daytime naps to cover the deficit.

We wish not only to get enough sleep but to optimize our sleep in order to be fully recovered and ready to train to a higher level.  The first step in this process is to make it dark.  Quality sleep is best accomplished in total, or near-total, darkness.  Even very low-level light stimulus can cause unwanted waking and disrupt productive sleep.  We, therefore, recommend turning off or making dark all ambient light sources – clocks, phones, radios, TV’s, hallway lights, etc.  If this is not possible or only partially so, we recommend using a sleep mask to sleep in, which will block out almost all of the light in your bedroom.

Quality sleep also involves a quiet environment.  Again, this necessitates turning off phones, computers, TV’s, etc to make your sleep environment as quiet as possible.  White noise might be OK, and this is certainly an individual choice that should be made through experimentation, whether the white noise is coming from a fan, a humidifier/de-humidifier, or a “white-noise” machine.  Another consideration for turning off all unused electronics at night would be the RFI/EMI (radio frequency interference/electromagnetic interference) noise pollution that many modern electronics emit.  If loud and/or sudden noises cannot be kept to a minimum, we recommend using ear plugs (rather than headphones which will come off during sleep far easier) which will block out the majority of noises.

Sleep consistency involves maintaining consistent sleep and wake cycles.  Our bodies function on a Circadian rhythm which has evolved over time from the rising and the setting of the sun.  Athletes should do their best to get to bed early in the evenings as any sleep prior to midnight will help establish a more natural (in-line with the sun) sleep/wake cycle.  Optimal hormone production can also be assisted by an established, regular sleep and wake pattern.

Establishing a nightly routine prior to sleep as well as a morning routine upon waking can influence your quality of sleep as well as your general health and readiness for the day (and training and necessary nutrition) ahead.  30 minutes prior to sleep we recommend reducing all intense visual stimulation (TV, computer, video games, etc) which allows your visual cortex to wind down for the day.  Helpful habits that could be included in this 30 min period would be anything to get ready for the following day (training, breakfast/lunch/snacks ready, school/work things gathered) as well as any healthy habits such as brushing teeth, showering, and making sure that there is water by the bed.  This nightly routine should include any other helpful extras as well – Epsom salt bath, warm milk, meditation – simply be sure to use whatever extra habits help you get the quality sleep required for improved regeneration!

Posted on

Successful Sport Task Management Part 3: Regeneration and Nutrition

Again, we look at regeneration as the ability to recover from a given session, training phase or season and then be ready to move on to the next (higher) level.  We covered sleep and sleep-related strategies in Part Two, and we move on to the other main influence for Regeneration – Nutrition.

As with sleep, we try to keep things as simple as possible while remaining effective in regard to nutrition (including hydration).  Eating right is simple – not easy.  First and foremost we want to keep in mind that convenience leads to success (CLS).  That means we need to plan ahead and prepare for the coming week by creating a list of basic foods; planning for meals appropriately; buying our food; preparing some or most of our food for the week; and packing our prepared foods/meals as conveniently as possible to have things ready to go for our sleep and/or wake rituals.  The simplest way to do all of the above is to have a planning/preparing/packing day each week – what we call a weekly ritual.  This all-in-one day allows the readiness and convenience of foods that you have planned for in your diet to be ready to go when you need them.  This greatly increases the likelihood of sticking to your plan and getting the best regeneration nutrition bang-for-your-buck.

First and foremost all athletes should be eating as many colorful vegetables as they can at each meal, and eating colorful fruits less often but still daily.  There are so many benefits to eating a wide variety of colorful vegetables that if we listed them all in an ad most people simply would not believe the hype… Fresh, mostly raw vegetables influence our basic health that much!  Besides the many vitamins and minerals present, there is an astounding (and ever-growing as we find out more) list of co-nutrients, healthy bacteria, enzymes and phytonutrients in fresh vegetables and fruits.  Most often we recommend fresh vegetables, and then in descending order: frozen, dried and canned – raw most often, cooked less often.  There are color-coded vegetable and fruit charts if you are not coming up with many options, with a normal breakdown of green, white, red, yellow/orange, and blue/purple.  Simple – eat a wide variety of colorful vegetables at each meal… not easy.

Next, we want to be sure to eat a complete protein at each meal.  Complete proteins contain all of the required amino acids to effect optimal repair and recovery.  We break down muscle tissue during hard/heavy training and complete proteins provide the necessary building blocks to help regeneration proceed after this training.  One serving of a complete protein would equal any of the following foods about the size of your hand or your fist: eggs, meats, fish/seafood, and dairy.  Try to include a serving of protein at each meal, and as with vegetables and fruits above, include variety as best you can.

Along with protein an important building block for optimal regeneration are healthy fats.  We recommend including healthy fats daily, hopefully, some healthy fats with each meal.  Healthy fats include coconut oil, olive oil, nuts and seeds, butter and cream.  Healthy fats slow digestion, help control insulin levels, help rebuild and repair damaged tissues, as well as supply an important energy source.  An effective nutrition plan can not overemphasize the inclusion of these fats on a regular basis.

Water is vital to not only athletic performance but to our lives.  We recommend that athletes drink plain, clean water most often.  There are instances when non-calorie drinks such as coffee and tea are OK as well, and again – for the most part, athletes should be drinking plain, clean water.  A green drink (with vegetables, fruits, flax, coconut oil, etc) is a solid addition to a daily nutrition plan as well and could account for one of your daily meals.  Besides the green drink just mentioned and the workout windows described below, almost all of your fluids should be calorie free – plain, clean water.

Workout windows describe the area on either side of or during training.  This window of opportunity allows for protein, carbs, and fats to be used immediately not only for energy for training but also for immediate repair from training.  We time this window from about 1.5 to 2 hours prior to training to 30 to 45 minutes post training.  Before practice, we recommend a balance of clean carbs, proteins, and fats.  During training we most often recommend plain, clean water – and should training last over an hour and/or be exceptionally hard we recommend some type of training drink (Gatorade, Accelerade, etc).  Post-training we recommend some type of protein and carb combination to speed recovery and to avoid most fat and fiber at this time since these both slow digestion, and we want to get nutrients to our muscles as quickly as possible after training.  An easy and popular post-workout drink is chocolate milk, and there are several others that provide a quick source of protein and carbs (Accelerade, Gatorade Recovery, etc).  Experiment at practices to find out what works best to regularly help your performance (both training and recovery), and then use these same strategies for meets.  Do not complicate things at meets – what works for hard practices will work for meets.

Some probably think that we have forgotten the most important of all macro-nutrients – carbohydrates.  The above vegetables and fruits do contain some carbs, but vegetables especially tend not to have too many calories.  Well, in our opinion additional carbs are a little over-hyped.  Carbohydrates are fuel only – whereas protein is a mainly a major building block, and fats are both building blocks and a concentrated energy source.  Additional carbs would be most grains (breads, rice, cereals), potatoes, corn, and sugar.  In our view these additional carbohydrates should be looked at as activity-dependant, meaning you should eat as many carbs as needed to cover your training needs and no more.  In high-volume, hard training phases this may be a lot of carbs, and conversely, during the off-season this would be not-so-many carbs.  Individual experimentation should guide your efforts in finding what works best for your performance (as well as your waistline) in regard to additional carbohydrates.

There is no magic to eating for performance, just a simple set of guidelines to follow consistently.  Make correlations as you can between performance and nutrition, as well as weight and performances (weight being guided mainly by nutrition).  Temptation and inconvenience tend to be the biggest enemies of nutritional success, so follow the advice above and keep things as simple as possible with effective, convenient meal strategies that suit your tastes and lead you to improved performances and increased regeneration.