Every athlete knows the importance of proper nutrition, hydration and rest. But all too often, they think of "rest" as a period of relaxation rather than actual, proper sleep.
Sleep is absolutely critical for an athlete's ability to play and for his or her long-term health. The benefits of sleep are many. It offers the body an opportunity to repair any damage caused by running or jumping for long periods of time, improves blood flow, and removes stress.
Here is a look at how professional athletes realize the benefits of sleep, and how others could learn from their example.
The NBA Nap
Every afternoon during the NBA season, players lie down and take a nap before their game.
Players like Jeremy Lin, LeBron James and Derrick Rose swear by the power of the mid-day nap. The napping culture is so prevalent that league officials know better than to call players in the afternoon. In the meantime, teams like the Golden State Warriors are looking into ways to improve their sleep performance.
Napping is common in the NBA because it is hard for players to get consistent sleep otherwise. They play games that often end around 11 p.m., and then have to shower, get dressed and do interviews. They often travel from city to city and must be ready to play the next day.
But even amateur athletes who don't have to deal with such busy schedules should look into the benefits of naps. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) observes that a short nap of 20 to 30 minutes in the afternoon "can help to improve mood, alertness and performance." They even observe that most mammals take short rests throughout the day instead of one long period of sleep, and wonder if our current sleep habits are natural.
If you are not getting enough sleep throughout the day, a short nap can go a long way toward improving your athletic performance.
Tom Brady is a football fanatic. He is known for a schedule that almost totally revolves around football, and he would gladly cut out all sorts of hobbies if it would improve his performance.
Brady goes to bed at 8:30 p.m. to get better sleep. When he was younger, he liked to have a good time, but he knows that at 38 years old, he needs all the sleep he can get to keep playing football at a high level.
Serena Williams takes things a step further. She goes to sleep at 7 p.m.
It should be noted that going to bed early is not as important as getting plenty of sleep. If you can sleep late for a long stretch, that's fine. But it is much easier to get those critical seven to nine hours of sleep if you go to bed early. And outside of athletics, more and earlier sleep can lead to better work performance and less stress.
Not Just Any Mattress
There is more to sleep than plopping down on a standard mattress and closing your eyes. Just ask Nick Littlehales, who advises British soccer players about the importance of sleep.
Littlehales takes this advice a step further than just "get plenty of sleep." He gives the soccer players a special sleep kit and uses mattress comparisons to find one that accommodates each one's height and weight. He also checks on the lighting and temperature of their bedrooms to ensure they are sleeping well. On one occasion, he discovered to his horror that a player's bedroom was at 90 degrees Fahrenheit. His wife liked the heat, but the high temperature meant that the player woke up dehydrated.
This is similar to the recommendations of the NSF, which observes that a bedroom should be comparable to the caves that ancient humans slept in: quiet, cool and dark. The NSF recommends a temperature of 60 to 67 degrees, with cool being better than warm.
Getting a custom mattress, like one of Littlehales's players, might be too expensive for some. But anyone can make sure their bedroom is dark and cool enough to ensure proper sleep.
Sleep is more critical for athletes than non-athletes, because it's a way for them to allow both their body and mind to recover. It is important to get seven to nine hours of sleep, but there are different ways to do it, whether you take a nap or rise early. The key is to keep your sleep patterns as consistent as possible.
So get off the computer and get some quality some rest before your next competition. It can make the difference between victory and defeat.
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