Eat, Practice, Sleep; Repeat
I hear this mantra all the time, no matter the sport. Athletes can tell you what they ate throughout the day, what's nutritional, and what foods they should be avoiding. They also know whether they had a great day of training, if they need to adjust their stroke, or their strings were a tad too tight.
But what about their sleep? They know they squeeze it in for a few hours each night, but beyond that, most athletes can't tell you much about their sleep or how it affects their performance.
Eat, Practice, Sleep; Repeat.
In the crazy world of sports, athletes are often willing to do anything for that extra boost, that split second faster. Surely there is a hidden gem out there that will give you that little bit more than the other guy or girl.
Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet that will instantaneously make you into MJ or Michael Phelps. However, what I can offer you is what I consider one of the most untapped areas of sports performance.
That's right, it's sleep.
Think about a time when you had a bad night of sleep or only slept a few hours. The next day you were probably exhausted, struggled through morning weights, and did not have the most productive practice.
In our hectic schedules, we often sacrifice sleep, but there is growing evidence that sleep is important for optimal performance. For example, sleep deprivation and chronic sleep loss can negatively affect speed, accuracy, and reaction time--all very critical for any sport. Sleep deprivation can also negatively impact mood and physical training such as weight lifting.
So whether you're looking for a competitive advantage or simply want to be better rested for your next game, here's a quick game plan to start your season right:
1. Get a good season of rest
"Get a good night of rest" is the typical prescription the night before a game or competition. Fantastic--but you'll need more than just one night or one week of adequate sleep to reap the rewards. In collegiate athletes, the largest improvements in athletic performance is often over an entire season of prioritizing adequate rest and better sleep habits in their daily training.
2. Pay Off Your Sleep Debt
Many collegiate and professional athletes believe they get enough sleep, but these same athletes might not even be at their peak performance with this amount of sleep, due to accumulated sleep debt from chronic sleep loss.
The key? "Pay back" your sleep debt by extending your nightly sleep time--an extra 30 minutes (or more) will do you wonders. Be patient though. Just like a loan, paying off a sleep debt takes time but studies have suggested that this may lead to improvements in athletic performance, such as a positive an impact on physical speed and reaction time. Plus, it will also improve your mood both on and off field.
So, TiVo that favorite TV show tonight and hit the sack early.
3. Build in a pre-game nap
Make it a point to take a 20-30 minute nap before your game or competition. This can be beneficial especially if you didn't sleep well or only had a few hours of sleep the night before competition as naps can improve reaction time and performance for several hours. Just be sure to set an alarm; I'd suggest two.
Eat, Practice, Sleep; Repeat.
Cheri D. Mah is a researcher at the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory focusing on sleep and athletic performance. She coaches Stanford athletes and professional sports teams including the NBA, NFL, and NHL on optimal sleep, recovery, and peak performance. She loves all sports and tweets often on anything and everything sleep and sports.