By Margarita Nahapetyan
A new evidence indicates that athletes who extended their hours of nightly sleep and reduced accumulated sleep debt, showed significant improvements in athletic performance.
Cheri Mah, M.S., researcher at the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory at Stanford University in CA., and a principal author of the study, said that many of the athletes who took part in the study, for the first time realized how important it was to get enough sleep and how it affected their performance during competitions.
For the study purposes, researchers involved five healthy students with the ages between 18 and 21 years, who were members of the Stanford Women's tennis team. Athletes maintained a record of their habitual sleep and wake patterns for a two to three week baseline during their regular tennis seasons.
Athletic performance, such as sprinting and hitting drills, was reported after every practice. Athletes then extended their sleep to 10 hours per night for the period of 6 weeks. The investigators were also recording their mood and daytime sleepiness. In addition, daily sleep/wake activities were monitored by experts by means of sleep journals and actigraphy. The experiment was carried out specifically during the regular tennis season in order to obtain data during weekly practices as well as during tournaments and competitions.
The results of the study revealed that sleep extension in athletes has resulted in a faster sprinting drill (approximately 19.12 seconds in the beginning, compared to 17.56 seconds at end of sleep extension), increased hitting accuracy including valid serves (12.6 serves at the start, compared to 15.61 serves at the end), and hitting depth drill (10.85 hits versus 15.45 hits).
Traditionally, elite athletes spend a lot of hours practicing on a daily basis, dedicate numerous hours to strength training, and conditioning as well as work closely with nutritionists in order to optimize and boost their athletic performance, said Mah. However, very little, if any, attention is being paid to an athlete's sleeping patterns and habits. According to Mah, while most athletes and their trainers may think that sleep is an important contributing factor in sports, many are not aware that optimal or peak performance can only happen when an athlete's sleep and sleep habits are optimal.
The experts believe that findings of their new study would be applicable also to other sports, in that daytime sleepiness would be reduced and mood and athletic performance would improve based on findings from initial trails of this study.
The results of this study were presented on Monday, June 8, at SLEEP 2009, the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.