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Why a good sleep is new dream for athletes

by ZwemZa on January 3rd, 2021

A good night’s kip was seldom rarer than in 2020, when COVID-19 even ravaged the nation’s sleep. As it did so, millions were reminded of how working effectively is harder when sleep-deprived. Without a good seven hours, employees have been found to be markedly less productive.

Elite athletes are the same. Without proper sleep, they become significantly worse at their jobs.

The connection between sleep and performance has been demonstrated across myriad sports. Sleeping for nine hours a night, rather than seven-and-a-half, made tennis players’ serves more accurate. When they slept for 10 hours a night, Stanford University basketball players were nine per cent more accurate in their free-throw shots. If 10 hours seems indulgent, both LeBron James and Roger Federer are said to sleep for 12 hours, with Federer topping up a 10-hour sleep with a two-hour day-time nap.

When athletes do not sleep properly, they are also more likely to suffer illness and injuries. The importance of sleep may be particularly great among young athletes. One study of promising athletes aged 16-19 found that they were 61 per cent more likely to suffer injuries when they did not sleep for eight hours a night.

Yet, for all that a lack of sleep can damage athletes’ physical capabilities, it is even more debilitating to their minds. Leading South African cricketers were recently involved in a study requiring them to complete sleep journals every morning. While poor sleep was found to damage the performance of all players, batsmen particularly suffered. The sheer mental strain of batting for a long period, and the intense concentration required, is heightened without adequate sleep.

In sport and beyond, a disrupted night has been shown to impede someone’s cognitive functions the next day.

Perhaps the biggest evangelist for sleep in sport is American football quarterback Tom Brady, who goes to bed by 9pm each night. “Proper sleep has helped me get to where I am today,” Brady has said. When he is sleeping, “I like it cold and dark like a bear”.

Brady uses a mattress made from micro diamonds, costing several thousand dollars, and ensures that he always goes to bed in a room at optimal temperature for sleep: 15-18C. Such attention to detail is easy to mock. But Brady has a very clear retort: he is still playing in the NFL at the age of 43.

Getting proper sleep is one of the simplest – and cheapest – ways of improving on-field performance. Many of the smartest teams in the world are already recognising as much: Brentford have employed a sleep specialist since 2016; Boston Red Sox, the Major League Baseball side run by Liverpool’s owners, have custom-made bedding in their sleep room.

While many athletes – at youth and professional level alike – do not sleep enough to give themselves the best chance of thriving, sleep is too individual for there to be a set routine that everyone requires. Many leading athletes are devising personalised regimes: working with sleep coach Nick Littlehales, Cristiano Ronaldo is said to have five naps a day.

Working with sleep coach Nick Littlehales, Cristiano Ronaldo is said to have five naps a day.

Couch potatoes the world over rejoice: frequent naps are believed to enhance knowledge retention and performance.

“There is evidence that napping between training sessions in which competing material is learnt protects the motor memory traces against one another,” Genevieve Albouy, an expert in sleep from KU Leuven university, said in The Best: How Elite Athletes are Made.

Sleeping after practice can develop neuroplasticity in the brain, helping to consolidate new knowledge and skills. Athletes who sleep better learn at a faster rate.

As the performance benefits of sleep become clearer, it will increasingly be viewed as one of sport’s new frontiers. The Oura Ring – which tracks a wearer’s sleep patterns, heart rate and respiratory rate – is already used by a growing number of athletes, especially in the United States.

“It breaks down my deep sleep, REM [rapid eye movement] sleep, restfulness, how many times I woke up,” said basketball player Kevin Love, declaring the ring among the 10 things he cannot live without. In the years ahead, a growing number of athletes may come to think the same, even as they lament the new level of invasiveness.

The Daily Telegraph

From → Inspiration

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