June 9, 2016 • CoachingSports Medicine

Pro athletes discuss how sleep is critical to performance

NBA star Kevin Durant is one of many pro athletes who believe sleep is critical to performance and recovery. | Photo: Keith Allison
NBA star Kevin Durant is one of many pro athletes who believe sleep is critical to performance and recovery. | Photo: Keith Allison

Never underestimate the power of sleep, especially when it comes to athletic performance.

Health experts have long promoted the benefits of a good night’s sleep, but rarely do we hear some of the biggest athletes in the world talk about rest and its influence on their performances. CBS Sports recently posted a lengthy piece examining how elite athletes like LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Paul George value sleep following games and workouts.

Studies have shown that adequate rest can increase performance and recovery while decreasing the risk of injuries.

“Sleep is the most important thing when it comes to recovery,” James said in the article. “And it’s very tough with our schedule. Our schedule keeps us up late at night, and most of the time it wakes us up early in the morning. … There’s no better recovery than sleep.”

Scientists say that one sleepless night is the equivalent of having a few alcoholic drinks, and 22 hours without sleeping can cause cognitive and reactive impairment, according to the article.

From CBS Sports:

The breakthrough study was a 2011 trial led by Stanford’s Cheri Mah, one of the world’s top experts on the effects of sleep on sports performance. Over several weeks, the nightly sleep of 11 Stanford men’s basketball players was increased, with a goal of spending 10 hours per night in bed. At the end of the trial, faster sprint times were recorded, and free-throw accuracy increased 9 percent while 3-point accuracy improved 9.2 percent.

Long-term effects of sleep debt on athletes have been documented, too. A 2010-12 trial involving 80 Major League Baseball players from three teams led by Christopher Winters of the Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, showed a correlation between daytime sleepiness and career longevity. Over the three-year period, 72 percent of players reporting lower levels of sleepiness were still in the league, compared to 39 percent of those reporting to be twice as sleepy and 14 percent of those with Epworth Sleepiness scores that were three times as high.

“Start ’em young” is what parents say about kids and sports, but it’s true with sleep, too. In a 2014 study involving 160 middle school athletes by the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics, those who slept less than eight hours per night were 1.7 times more likely to have an injury than those who slept for eight hours or more.

“Of course, on the basketball side, you have to fine tune your skills,” Thunder forward Kevin Durant told CBS Sports. “But on the other side, you have to fine tune your body. There’s a lot of remedies you can use as a basketball player to get better, but the easiest thing you can do is go to sleep.”

Few will argue that sleep doesn’t have health benefits, yet not enough coaches encourage their players to get more rest. Even when they do, it’s difficult convincing college and high school players with social lives and homework to spend more time in bed.

The CBS Sports feature is an excellent read for those interested in how sleep affects performance. You can read the complete story by clicking here.

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