Sleep – The Ultimate Performance Enhancer


“Eating well and working well are incomplete without sleeping well”. (Huffington, p. 260)

The above quote points out one of the greatest performance enhancer that has been quietly forgotten. Yes, we are talking about “sleep”! For the longest time, sleep has been something that we do now and then, something that we try to do without, so that we can get more done. I worked with an athlete recently that had watched an exercise video that encouraged him to not sleep so he could get more done and have more time to workout. Taking this too heart, my athlete got to the point of living on about two hours of sleep a night. For awhile, he thought he was really getting himself in shape and of course he had more time to practice his sport. Over time, his sleep deprivation started catching up to him – interfering with his cognitive abilities and his physical abilities. In fact, he started getting injured on the field. So, instead of enhancing his performance, no sleep limited his performance.

As pointed out in Arianna Huffington’s book, “The Sleep Revolution”, “The relationship between sleep deprivation and stress is also profound. Sleep deprivation results in higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol the next day. And many of the genes affected by lack of sleep are involved in processing stress and regulating our immune system. Researchers from the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom found that lack of sleep actually changes the gene expression of more than seven hundred genes and increases the activity of genes linked to inflammation. This shift takes place after just one week of getting too little sleep.”(Huffington, p. 103) So, lack of sleep makes us weaker, less healthy, more susceptible to disease and injury, and overall just restricts the optimal functioning of our body and mind.

“Those at the leading edge of the sports world have concluded that sleep is the ultimate performance-enhancing drug –one that comes with only positive side effects. And much of this is, of course, about recovery. Just as athletes need more calories than most people when they’re in training, they need more sleep, too,” said sports medicine specialist Dr. David Geier. “Your pushing your body in practice, so you need more time to recover.”(Huffington, p. 261)

As an athlete, as a human, we need to sleep. Sleep is a part of life that is vital. During sleep, our bodies and minds are renewed, reinvigorated, cleaned up and the trash is taken out. Think about the next time you prepare for a performance or just some daily living – do you think and perform better when you are rested or when you are tired? Take a look at a few of the studies done in sports about the difference between getting enough sleep and not enough…….

Coming out of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory —

1.) In 2002, Stanford swimmers put on a sleep schedule to make up for lost sleep — Results – “Several collegiate swimmers walked into the lab with wide grins, having set multiple personal records.” (Huffington, p. 262)

2.) In 2011, Stanford basketball members wore sleep sensors for  two weeks — Results – “they averaged just more than six and half hours each night — along with statistics on sprints, free throws, and three point shots. Then, for five to seven weeks, she had them aim for a minimum of ten hours in bed each night, spending as much of the time as possible asleep. The players’ sleep average went up to eight and half hours, and the increases in performance were dramatic. Sprint times were .7 seconds faster, free-throw shooting went up by 9 percent, and three-point shooting increased 9.2 percent.” (Huffington, p. 263)

3.) Stanford football players studied on sleep extension — Results – “She found that average times for a twenty-yard shuttle sprint went from 4.71 seconds to 4.61 seconds, and average 40 yard dash times went from 4.99 to 4.89 seconds. The players level of daytime grogginess went down, and their vigor went up. Some sport teams are beginning to realize there are untapped benefits in improving their athletes’ sleep.” (Huffington, p. 263)

“Applying findings from sleep research can provide a competitive edge”

Take a look at the following professional athletes and teams that are now or have been prioritizing sleep:

Seattle Seahawks – Coach Pete Carroll, Sam Ramsden -Director of player health and performance, and Michael Gervais, Director of high-performance psychology at the DISC Sports and Spine Center  — “Fatigue and performance are intimately linked, and sleep is one of the important variables to get right to help athletes sustain high effort and enthusiasm for the long haul.” (Huffinton, p. 264-65)

New England Patriots’ quarterback, Tom Brady – goes to bed at 8:30 PM.

Chicago Bears Sport-science coordinator, Jennifer Gibson, teaches players good sleep habits and proper napping techniques.

NBA All-Star Grant Hill — “People talk about diet and exercise, but sleep is just as important”

Four-time NBA MVP LeBron James “swears by 12 hours a day when practicing”

Tennis great Roger Federer – “If I don’t sleep eleven to twelve hours a day, it’s not right”, he says, “If I don’t have that amount of sleep, I hurt myself.” (Huffington, p.266)

The list is long and increasing. Take note — find your sleep time — ask yourself,  How much sleep time do you need to perform your best??