There is a high interest level in rest and sleep amongst the sports world. Some athletes neglect sleep and rest, while others are asking many questions about how much sleep they should be getting. It is being shown through research that improving performance is not only a product of the other three dimensions — mental/cultural, performance and nutrition — but also our fourth and final dimension: the rest and recovery component.
Referring back to the previous dimension–nutrition–I stated, “we can’t out train a bad diet…” The next part of that statement is, “…and you can’t under sleep good nutrition.” Student athletes may be doing all the right things but lacking in the sleep arena, and in turn, their performance will not be up to full potential.
The first step to help student athletes improve their rest and sleep is to educate them on the following:
- Importance of sleep
- Sleep goals
- Quality sleep environment
- Nap recommendations and/or goals
To assist in educating the athletes on this information, we give them an article pertaining to sleep. The article we used recently was, “In multibillion-dollar business of NBA, sleep is the biggest debt” (Berger, 2016). I read the article and highlighted the most pertinent information for the athletes to focus on. That highlighted information was also used to create a Google Form containing true/false and multiple choice questions.
Athletes are given the article, quiz access, and a date/time for completion. There is no reason they should miss questions since they have all the answers right in front of them. Utilizing the article and quiz helped to ensure that they had an understanding of the information given to them.
Immediately following the education piece, athletes will download the Sleep Cycle app. The app will allow the athletes to record their sleep. Just as they did with their nutrition, we will utilize a 10-day time frame to record and monitor their sleep habits.
Following the 10 days, the app allows the athletes to export their sleep data and email it for evaluation. Upon receiving their exported data, we can see the following information:
- Start/End date and time
- Sleep quality
- Time in bed (quantity)
- Other ancillary data that the athlete can put in if they choose (not required)
We then create a database, which allows us to consolidate the data using a pivot table to see each athlete’s sleep quality, quantity and an assigned grade based on that data. This format allows the data to be easily communicated to athletes and coaches so they understand it.
Research & Application
Cheri Mah, Clinical and Translational Research Fellow at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Human Performance Center, performed a study with the Stanford men’s basketball program along with a sleep specialist. They examined the “effects of sleep extension on specific measures of athletic performance, as well as reaction time, mood and daytime sleepiness.”
Within this study they had the team sleep as they normally would for multiple weeks and then for another few weeks asked them to sleep 10 hours each night. Following the segment of longer sleep Mah and team found that the athletes ran faster and shooting accuracy improved on free throws and 3-point field goals. She has also conducted research with other sports teams and has found “more sleep led to better performance” (Brandt, 2011).
Here at Clemson, we utilize that study to further show our athletes the impact sleep can have on their performance. For example, we had one student-athlete whose heart rate data showed a training effect of 4.0-5.0 or game-like loads for practices, while the rest of the team had training effects of 3.0 or below. When further examining the sleep of the athlete who had game-like loads, we noticed that the average sleep being achieved had an “F” grade. After seeing the data, the athlete took their sleep to a “B” average, and in turn, the practice training effect was lowered to what the rest of the team was averaging.
Sleep in conjunction with the previously discussed dimensions of athlete development allow athletes to improve their performance. Rest and sleep have been shown to be important through the research and practical application with our student-athletes.
Side note: the methods used to gather the sleep data for our student-athletes are not 100% proven, but they do give us a means to monitor and assess sleep habits. Also, if through our data analysis and conversations with athletes, we discover or believe there could be a true sleep issue, this allows us to have the athlete complete a sleep survey and meet with a sleep specialist.
Berger, K. In multibillion-dollar business of NBA, sleep is the biggest debt. Cbssports.com. 2016.
Brandt, M. Snooze you win? It’s true for achieving hoop dreams, says study. Med.stanford.edu. June 2011.