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Lack of Sleep Can Reduce Athletic Performance

For those athletes burning the candle at both ends, they may want to consider cutting back on late nights if they want to perform at their peak.

In contrast, other studies have found that athletes who get extra sleep time exhibit increased performance. In a study of six healthy students from the Stanford men's basketball team, the subjects were measured for baseline sleep over a two-week period, which was then followed by a period of extended sleep where they got as much extra sleep as possible. Athletic performance was measured based on their sprint time and shooting percentages. After the extra sleep time, faster sprint times and increased free-throws were observed, in addition to athletes reporting increased energy, decreased fatigue, and improved mood during practices and games.

Cheri Mah of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory has studied the effect that sleep has on athletic performance. Mah stresses the importance of sleep as a "significant factor in achieving peak athletic performance." Mah said that many athletes don't get enough sleep, and this accumulated sleep debt can have negative effects on a number of levels, such as mood, cognitive functioning and reaction time.

Studies have shown that 30 hours or more of sleep deprivation results in a loss of performance. This means that f an athlete only gets six hours of sleep per night when he needs eight, the impaired performance will show in about two weeks' time. Lack of sleep interferes with information processing as well, with cognitive impairment taking half the time to appear than physical impairment, so the athlete can be feeling energetic but may begin to make ineffective or faulty tactical decisions. In addition, their emotional state will reflect the lack of sleep, resulting in an increased perception of effort and moods that are not conducive to performing at their best.

Nevertheless, Mah states that the "negative effects can be minimized or eliminated by prioritizing sleep in general and, more specifically, obtaining extra sleep to reduce one's sleep debt." Mah has performed studies on athletes in other sports as well, such as football, golf, cross country skiing, and track and field sports, all of which found that athletes who got extended sleep for seven to eight weeks during the season, aiming for a minimum of ten hours of sleep per night, showed measurably improved performance.

Mah provided some tips to help maximise sleep:

- Make sleep a part of your regular training regimen.
- Extend nightly sleep for several weeks to reduce your sleep debt before competition.
- Maintain a low sleep debt by obtaining a sufficient amount of nightly sleep (seven to eight hours for adults, nine or more hours for teens and young adults).
- Keep a regular sleep-wake schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same times every day.
- Take brief naps to obtain additional sleep during the day, especially if drowsy.

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