The Sleep Edge

If you were an elite athlete, what would you sacrifice to become faster and more accurate?  Would you use steroids and risk cancer, sexual dysfunction, and mood swings?  It is remarkable that, while many athletes are willing to take these risks, few execute a simple, healthy, and natural method of performance enhancement- more sleep.  

A recent study assessed the effects of sleep extension among male Stanford basketball players.  These players performed several tests at baseline, including timed sprints, free-throw shooting, and three-point shooting.  After several weeks of spending 10 hours each night in bed, players extended sleep times from 6.7 hours per night to about 8.5 hours per night- they extended sleep by about 111 minutes.  This is the difference between the sleep restriction that most of us force upon ourselves and the sleep that our bodies seek.   Sprint times improved by about 4%, free-throw percentage improved by about 9%, and a three-point percentage improved by about 9%.  These improvements are staggering- average movers became quick, average foul shooters became consistent, and average jump shooters became snipers.  College players, perhaps, became NBA prospects. 

Chip Kelly is among the few professional coaches who preach the benefits of sleep extension.  He tracks his players’ sleep and encourages 8-12 hours of sleep per night.  I think his emphasis upon the role of sleep in athletic performance will, in the long-run, benefit Eagles football.  Sleep wins championships.