Sleep is a time for rejuvenation, and more research is showing that getting too little of it has health consequences. Studies show that people who get less than 7 hours of sleep a night are at higher risk for obesity and other health-related problems. Now, there’s research showing that getting too little sleep can affect athletic performance as well. One more reason not to burn the late night candle.
In a study carried out at Stanford University on members of the varsity basketball team, researchers looked at the effects of sleep on performance on the basketball court. The players routinely slept less than 7 hours a night. For the first two to four weeks of the study, the team members maintained their normal sleep schedule, but during the subsequent five to seven weeks, they were instructed to sleep as much each night as possible with a goal of at least 10 hours of sleep. Most of them managed to get at least 8.5 hours during this time. The researchers then tested their athletic performance.
Did the extra sleep help them on the basketball court? They discovered that the athletes performed better in a variety of sports-related areas after increasing the time they slept. They had higher shooting percentages and their sprint times improved. They also experienced less fatigue during practice sessions and during games, and their performance showed it.
Even though this was a small study, it’s consistent with other research that shows the importance of sleep for both mental and physical function. Inadequate sleep interferes with glycogen synthesis, which is important for sports performance. It also elevates cortisol levels and reduces growth hormone levels. Higher cortisol levels create a catabolic state and reduce immunity to infection. Growth hormone is important for tissue repair after exercise, so it’s easy to see how lack of sleep would contribute to overtraining.
Lack of Sleep is Bad for Weight Control Too
Athletes need to control their weight, and not getting enough sleep boosts levels of ghrelin, an appetite hormone that turns on the desire to snack. It also lowers leptin levels, which stimulates appetite. Together, it’s a bad combination that can add unwanted pounds of body fat. High cortisol levels are also linked with belly fat.
More Sleep, Better Sports Performance
Many players and coaches don’t make sleep a priority, but maybe a little more emphasis in this area would improve performance on the field or on the court. The same applies to anyone playing a sport or working out at the gym. Rest and adequate sleep are an important part of any sports or fitness program. Make it a priority.
The best way to do this is to establish a regular sleep schedule and follow it every day as closely as possible. Aim for a minimum of 7 to 8 hours a night, and continue that pattern even on the weekend. Your body will adapt to a regular schedule, and it’ll be easier to fall asleep.
Getting enough sleep helps with weight control in another way too. If you’re well rested, you’ll work harder at the gym and burn more calories. Combine that with lower levels of appetite-stimulating hormones like ghrelin, and you have a recipe for fitness success.
Lancet (1999;354:1435-1439). Sleep. 2005 Oct;28(10):1289-96. WebMD. “The Dream Diet: Losing Weight While You Sleep”