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It’s more or less an annual ritual: Cheri Mah of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory releases some results that show how getting more sleep improves performance in Stanford varsity athletes. I’ve written before about her results for tennis players and swimmers. This year’s data, published in the journal Sleep, focused on basketball players, who were asked to aim to increase their time in bed to 10 hours a night:
Participants shot 10 free throws from 15 feet, making an average of 7.9 shots at baseline and 8.8 shots at the end of the sleep extension period. They also attempted 15 three-point field goals, making an average of 10.2 shots at baseline and 11.6 shots after sleep extension. The timed sprint [which improved from 16.2 to 15.5 seconds] involved running from baseline to half-court and back to baseline, then the full 94-foot length of the court and back to baseline.
None of these sleep studies were randomized or controlled, so we can’t take the data too seriously. (Particularly in sports like swimming, we’d expect to see improvements from early season to late season even without a change in sleeping habits.) Still, it’s interesting stuff.
What differentiates the basketball data from some of the earlier studies is that sleep time was measured objectively using actigraphs (basically watched-sized devices that monitor movement at night). So we know that the basketball players managed to increase their actual time asleep (as opposed to just time in bed) for just under 8.5 hours a night, an increase of110.9 minutes from baseline. That’s a big difference — and it’s a lot of sleep, considerably more than most people even aim for.
Mah offers these tips:
- Prioritize sleep as 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 nine 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 20-30 minute naps to obtain additional sleep during the day, especially if drowsy.
This is all eat-your-vegetables kind of advice. I mean, we all know sleep is important — but sometimes it’s good to be reminded that the results show up objectively.