What I Learned From Using Sleep Tracking Technology, and How It Can Help Athletes

Athletes need good quality sleep. Wearable sleep-tracking technology can make sure you get it. STACK tests the Jawbone UP24.

I believe it was the urban philosopher Nasir Jones who once said, "I don't sleep, 'cause sleep is the cousin of death." It's a mantra many people abide by, whether they're athletes, business pros or farmers—the notion that sleep is a barrier to success because it steals our time. As it turns out, the quality of your work or performance can suffer when you treat sleep as a luxury you can afford to do without.

High school athletes are especially likely to kick sleep to the bottom of their priority list. A 2006 National Sleep Foundation poll found that 20 percent of adolescents got less than the recommended 8-1/2 to 9-1/2 hours of sleep. When you've got practice and classes the next day, it's important that you function at full capacity. Lack of sleep won't allow you to do that, and it can also contribute to things you definitely don't want, like obesity, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.

Sleep and Athletes

Sleep is important for everyone, but especially athletes. A 2013 study from Fatigue Science has an abundance of information regarding how sleep deprivation can affect athletic performance. Two straight days of sleep restriction can triple your lapses of attention and reactivity. Four days of sleep restriction can drop your max Bench Press 20 pounds. You also get exhausted much faster—11 percent faster to be exact—which affects your ability to train and perform on the field.

Dig a little further and you'll find the positive benefits a good night's sleep has for athletes. According to a 2005 Gallup Poll, the average healthy individual in the United States averages 6.8 hours of sleep per night on weekdays. Elite athletes who play Olympic sports average 8.36 hours of sleep per night. For a 2006 study at Stanford University, student-athletes were asked to increase their sleep to 10 hours a night for six to seven weeks. Results showed the subjects' sprint and reaction times increased. Another study at Stanford found that a men's basketball player who gets 10 hours of sleep per night showed signs of reduced fatigue and injury while increasing his accuracy at the free-throw line and behind the 3-point arc.

There are more examples, but you get the gist. More (and better quality) sleep boosts athletic performance. But how do you monitor the duration and quality of your time in dreamland? Wearable sleep tracking technology has got you covered.

Sleep Tracking Technology

I've been wearing the Jawbone UP24 fitness tracker for a few weeks now, and I hardly notice that it's wrapped around my wrist anymore. Weighing no more than a few ounces, the UP24 not only tracks how many steps I take per day, it buzzes me when I sit on my rear end for too long and it shows me what times I'm most active during the day. But it also feeds me information about how I sleep. Each morning I'm greeted with a report that informs me how long I slept, whether I spent more time in "sound sleep" or "light sleep," and how long it took me to fall asleep.

How I feel when I grudgingly throw the covers off in the morning is a direct result of the quality of my sleep. I've always enjoyed staying up late, often pointlessly, I might add. Whether it's because I need to check Twitter for the umpteenth time before I turn in, or the cliffhanger at the end of a Game of Thrones episode was so good, I had to watch another one, a 1:00 a.m. bedtime or later has been the norm for much of my life. After seeing the results of that sleeping habit, I'm working to change it.

Getting to sleep by 12:30 a.m. has been a major goal of mine. I sleep better when I do. When I get at least 7 or 8 hours of sleep, I feel less groggy and more refreshed in the morning—and it keeps me from obnoxiously yawning during the day and feeling like I need to pop a "5-Hour Energy" when I leave work. I've also learned the importance of sound sleep, when your body is very still. Getting at least three hours of sound sleep increased both my focus and my energy level the next day. The nights I don't get it, I can feel the difference the minute I wake up.

The UP24 offers the option to wake yourself up with a "smart alarm," meaning it buzzes to wake you when you're in the lightest point in your sleep cycle. This feature hasn't done much for me. Either I'm already awake or I don't feel a distinct difference from waking up on my own, but it is there for those who want to use it.

Jawbone is not the only company that offers sleep tracking devices. Fitbit is gearing up to release three new fitness trackers in the coming weeks, all of which will track your sleep—and provide a heart rate monitor to boot. The Readiband is made specifically to capture in-depth data on how you sleep and how sleep affects your performance the next day. Data from all of these fitness trackers can be shared with coaches and teammates through an app on your smartphone.

So get more sleep, athletes. It helps with literally everything you do.

"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," Dallas Mavericks trainer Casey Smith, whose team employs the Readiband, told ESPN. "Sleep does all of those things."

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