Sleep to Score: How Sleep Drives Success in Professional Sports

Sleep to Score: How Sleep Drives Success in Professional Sports

October 15, 2018

Sports is a big business. From the pros to the “student-athletes” making billions for their universities, athletics generates Gordon Gekko money and then some. It’s no wonder that Lebron James spends $1.5 million on his body annually. By performing at his peak on the largest stage, he earns that money back 20 fold. It’s also the reason professional sports teams and colleges alike build multi-million dollar training facilities: to squeeze every last win out of their dollar.

Yet, there is another frontier of improving athletic performance that some organizations have taken advantage of more than others: sleep. That’s right, some NBA teams are spending hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars to try to improve the sleep habits of their players. Sound crazy? A quick google will reveal just how prevalent the emphasis on sleep has become in the NBA. That’s because the data backs it up. Still, don’t believe in the importance of sleep? Well, read on to learn how sleep helps athletes reach their full potential.



First to the Ball:

As Al Pacino once said in Any Given Sunday, ”Life is a game of inches. So is football.” If an inch is what makes the difference between winning and losing, sleep is the fuel that will get you that inch. Not sold that lack of sleep can affect your reaction time or say your cognitive function? According to a study done by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “ The performance showed no significant difference in both tests of anaerobic power over the sleep deprivation period, but reaction time differed significantly from baseline. Results support the hypothesis that sleep serves a function of cognitive restitution.” It was concluded that a lack of sleep, “Adversely affects cognitive function such as reaction time.”

If that wasn’t enough evidence for you, how about this? According to another study by the NCBI, lack of sleep can impair your cognitive function as much as being drunk. Ever try to hit a curveball after a few drinks? You have a better chance of hitting yourself. Bottom line: fatigue drastically lowers just about every aspect of your physical performance, leaving you trying to score 20 in a fog.   

Can’t Win if you Don’t Play:

One aspect of athletes’ careers that many fans overlook is injuries. Throughout the course of history, there are thousands of athletes who never reached their peak due to an injury. Names like Bo Jackson, Grant Hill, and Kerry Wood come to mind. However, for every Penny Hardaway, there are thousands of others who got injured well before they made the big leagues. Thankfully, sports science have come a long way in improving injury prevention and care. So, what do you think is the hot injury prevention method today? That’s right, sleep.

Here is a quote from Casey Smith, the head athletic trainer of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, “If you told an athlete you had a treatment that would reduce the chemicals associated with stress, that would naturally increase human growth hormone, that enhances recovery rate, that improves performance, they would all do it. Sleep does all of those things.” It should be noted that Casey Smith is considered one of the top athletic trainers in the world. He knows what he’s talking about.

The Most Important Distance in Sports is Between your Ears:

Sure, many times the good players are the best athletes. However, the great athletes can also think the game. Regardless of what sport you play, split-second decisions are the difference between winning and losing. That’s why so many great athletes champion the importance of mental toughness. Yankee great Yogi Berra may have summed it up best, “[The game] is 90% mental, the other half is physical.”

Math aside, this man knew what he was talking about. During his career, he won 13 titles, made 18 all-star games and was the MVP of the league 3 times. He may have not had the science back then to confirm his beliefs but he inherently understood the importance of his mind. Today, studies have shown, “That sleep loss impairs the frontal lobe of the brain and has negative effects on decision-making such as sensitivity to risk-taking, moral reasoning, and inhibitions.” Sports at any level pose plenty of challenges. The last thing you need is to add a degree of difficulty by not getting a proper amount of sleep.

Whether you’re a professional being paid obscene amounts of money, a college athlete working to get your degree or just a teenager just getting started, sleep is key to success. Don’t let a lumpy bed or scratchy pillow be the barrier to your athletic advancement. There’s a reason Tom Brady goes to sleep at 8:30 PM every night during the season. The science is in, sleeping is the best thing you can do for your health and your game.

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