Summer is here. Often athletes use summer camps for development. Sport Foundations has basketball and performance training camps starting June 24. But to optimize an athlete's ability they also need to prepare their body outside the field of play. I want to use the next several weeks to blog on what I consider to be the 6 essential elements to optimizing athletic performance and sport skill.
The first essential element is sleep, specifically sleeping 10 hours per day.
Sleep can improve performance and reduce injury. In 2012 a study showed that athletes getting more than 8 hours a sleep a day were 68% less likely to get injured than those that slept less than 8 hours per day. Athletic performance, reaction time, vigilance, learning, perceived exertion and alertness are impaired by insufficient sleep; so students with short nights and irregular sleep patterns are more likely to perform poorly in school and in sport, and have a tendency for a depressed mood. A research study of Stanford swimmers showed that increasing their sleep to 10 hours per night for 7 weeks significantly improved their reaction time off the blocks, 15m sprint time and turn time.
A follow up study on collegiate basketball players (study Mah et al) showed similar findings:
Subjects maintained their habitual sleep-wake schedule for a 2–4 week baseline followed by a 5–7 week sleep extension period. Subjects obtained as much sleep as possible during sleep extension with a minimum goal of 10 hours in bed each night. Measures of athletic performance specific to basketball were recorded after every practice including a timed sprint and shooting accuracy. Reaction time, levels of daytime sleepiness, and mood.
Total objective nightly sleep time increased during sleep extension compared to baseline by 110.9 ± 79.7 min (P < 0.001). Subjects demonstrated a faster timed sprint following sleep extension. Shooting accuracy improved, with free throw percentage increasing by 9% and 3-point field goal percentage increasing by 9.2% (P < 0.001). Reaction time significantly improved. Subjects also reported improved overall ratings of physical and mental well-being during practices and games
Recommendations for optimizing sleep:
Avoid distractions for 30 min prior to sleeping – particularly phones and social media.
Remove phones from the bedroom. One disturbing report in 2019 showed that 37% of teenagers check their phones in the middle of the night. Another study showed a phone in your bedroom is a distraction – even if it is turned off, because you are more likely to think about social media.
Sleep in a consistent temperature, cooler is better than warmer. It is well know that when LeBron James travels his team calls ahead to make sure his hotel room is between 68-69 degrees.
Have your bedroom be as dark as possible. Use window darkening shades, and if that is not possible consider a comfortable eye mask.
Many NBA players will use naps to reach 10 hours a day if their travel schedule prevents sleeping 9-10 hours at night.
Matt Walker, a brain scientist, recently gave a great TED talk describing sleep as an unknown superpower for life.