Athletic Winner’s Secret


With New Year’s Eve right around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about those ever-pressing New Year’s Resolutions. If you’re an athlete or are focused on making this the year that you get in shape, then there’s one tip that athletes know that you don’t and  you’re about to be clued in to the winning secret! When watching competitive athletes at play—whether it’s at Wimbledon, the World Cup, or the Super Bowl—do you ever wonder how these athletes prepare to perform at their best? How exactly do elite athletes get an edge over the competition? Talent and skill obviously help but there’s one other magic ingredient—sleep! And by incorporating more sleep into your daily routine, you can be ahead of the crowd and well on your way to reaching the year of your dreams.

Extending sleep is an athlete’s ‘secret’ weapon

Research shows that getting more sleep can lead you to better sports performance. Sleep scientists at Stanford University have conducted extensive research on the effects of sleep on athletic performance. Their results of studies with collegiate athletes show that extending sleep duration leads to significant improvements in athletic performance. [1]

You might be getting enough sleep for normal life but if you want to take your athletic caliber to the next level, you might need just a little bit more. A recent study of college varsity tennis players demonstrates the power of sleep on performance.[2] Players had their performance measured while they followed their normal routine and then were asked to extend their sleep to 10 hours per night. The results were striking. Players who gained additional sleep were able to hit the ball and serve with better accuracy, had faster sprint times and better hitting depth drill practice.[3] They also reported less fatigue and increased vigor as they played. The players’ improvement in serves was dramatic, a whopping 23 percent boost in accuracy. [Source:] That’s a difference that could easily provide the extra juice for a grand slam win or a real edge at your local tennis club. And the results are not specific to tennis.

Sleep scientists at the Stanford University Sleep Disorders Clinic, led by researcher Cheri Mah, found dramatic improvements to athletic performance among college athletes in a number of sports, including basketball, swimming, and football.[4] Athletes were faster, stronger, and displayed  greater accuracy and quicker reaction times after extending their sleep. In Mah’s study, she also found benefits of increased sleep duration in competitive NCAA athletes. In basketball players, she found they achieved better sprint times and more accurate free-throw shooting. In swimmers, she noted better sprint times, quicker reaction times, improved turn times, and increased kick strokes. Football players who slept longer performed  a faster 20-yard shuttle and 40-yard dash. All of the collegiate athletes in Mah’s study experienced increased endurance and less fatigue. And before all you baseball pros out there think you’re off the hook: sleeping times and preferences can have a big effect on pitcher performance in the big leagues as well.
Jumping higher, reaching further

Better sleep can also lead to better weight management which helps athletes push the envelope. More and more people involved in performance athletics, including the Boston Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers, are making sleep a priority in their training, and there’s a growing body of evidence to back this trend.[5] Physical activity is extremely taxing on the body and your body needs the proper amount of time to replenish and rebuild torn muscle and tissue.[6]Increasing sleep can help this process run faster and smoother.[7]

Exercise and sleep may be interrelated in more ways than we know and there are already clear benefits to both. This is all something to keep in mind, especially as you start planning your goals for the coming year. Even if you aren’t a competitive athlete, it’s pretty clear that you can benefit in your daily lives and performance from more quality sleep. The good news is that better sleep is within your reach. Now, if only serving up aces were that easy!

[Credit] Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. With a specialty in sleep disorders, he is one of only 163 psychologists in the world with his credentials and distinction. Dr. Breus is on the clinical advisory board and a regular contributor to The Dr. Oz Show, and for over 14 years has served as the Sleep Expert for WebMD.

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