The Power of Sleep to Improve Athletic Performance

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Elite athletes need at least 10 hours of sleep a day to perform at an optimal level on game days. You may read this and wonder who has the time and/or capacity to sleep 10 hours a night? If so, you're overlooking one of the most valuable game day activities: the pre-game nap.

Recently, we covered the pre-game napping habits of some of the NBA's best players, including Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Steve Nash and Stephen Curry. Now comes more evidence in the form of an amusing yet enlightening infographic that underscores the power of sleep for achieving peak athletic performance.

The first part of the infographic offers compelling data comparing sleep-deprived athletes [those receiving less than 10 hours a day] to their well-rested counterparts. Among the highlights:

  • Sleep-deprived athletes fatigue 11 percent faster than those who get 10-plus hours of sleep per day
  • Split-second decision-making ability improves by 4.3 percent for well-rested athletes
  • Lapses in reactivity increase three-fold after two days of limited sleep
  • Athletes' one rep max Bench Press drops 20 pounds after four days of limited sleep
  • Football players get one-tenth of a second faster in the 40-Yard Dash with 10-plus hours of sleep

The most impressive figure, though, is that a 20- to 30-minute power nap before a game improves alertness by 100 percent. Wow!

Sleep is for Champions
The second graphic charts how much sleep 14 of the sporting world's elite athletes get, further affirming sleep's potency. No surprise: of the 14 athletes studied, the top two sleep leaders are also the most awesome performers.  LeBron James is the leader, averaging 12 hours of sleep per day, with Roger Federer a close second at approximately 11-1/2 hours of shut-eye. The most revealing figure may that of the slumping Tiger Woods, who averages four to five hours of sack time.

Sleep Training
"Sleep is half my training," says triathlete Jarrod Shoemaker, whose eight to nine hours of sleep fall in the middle of the pack of the 14 studied athletes.

To achieve optimal performance once you rise from your slumber, follow these sleep tips from Cheri Mah, a sleep researcher at the Stanford Sleeping Disorders Clinic:

  • Maintain a regular sleep and wake schedule during training
  • Train and practice during the time of day you most often compete
  • Adjust your training load based on your recovery [in other words, plan your workouts based on how your body responds to the training]. For example, you will not benefit from back-to-back workout days if your muscles are sore during your first week of off-season training.
  • Take a 20- to 30-minute pre-game nap before each game [Remember, the "power nap" improves your alertness by a remarkable 100 percent!]


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock