The Power of Rest

Why sleep alone is not enough–and how to reset your body

Can Good Sleep Improve Sports Performance?

Better rest, better moves.

Hockey and Basketball and...

The Vancouver Canucks have one. So now do the Calgary Flames.

Dr. Charles Czeisler, head of sleep medicine at Harvard, is a consultant to the NBA. He's on record as recommending players get more than 8 hours of sleep a night in order to perform their best. Some teams are trying not to follow night games with morning practices.

Why are sports teams hiring sleep docs?

Body Clocks and Sports 

Team sports is a form of shift work. Games are often played at night—even in high school. Teams often have to travel considerable distances to play—which also cuts into player and staff rest time. Not everyone is like baseball great Hank Aaron, who could cat nap anywhere.

And if you move through different time zones, you also encounter jet lag.

Shift workers experience perpetual jet lag. They have more heart disease, strokes, weight gain, higher lipid levels, and probably higher cancer rates.

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Performance

From a sports team standpoint, if you handle human regeneration better, you perform better:

A. Multiple studies of college athletes at Stanford show considerably better stats when they try to sleep 10 hours a night during game season (most sleep more than usual, but don't really come close to sleeping ten hours.)

B. On away games in major leagues baseball, morning type players have higher batting averages in early afternoon games, while evening type players, or "owls", bat considerably better at night games. Other studies show that jet lag notably effects who wins or who doesn't in professional football and baseball.

C. Human physical memory is like verbal memory—it does far better with effective sleep, which is when it does much of its repair and regenerative work. Better rest, better moves.

D. Family and school demands must be balanced with the different schedules of sports if players are to reach peak performance—not so easy without professional understanding of rest and body clocks.

E. Young people need far more sleep than adults—approximately 9.5 hours a night for proper academic performance; since we learn and encode physical memories much as we do cognitive ones, adolescents athletes also need far more sleep than the 6.5- 7 hour average many get. 

F. People become injured playing sports. Sleep is a critical part of that recovery.

Rest Docs and Sleep Docs

Sleep is of course only one part of rest. In rest the body regenerates, as it does in the passive form of rest known as sleep.

Active rest can direct that process.

Active rest—physical, mental, social, and spiritual—has other advantages for teams:

Physical rest, where you pay attention to individual body functions, can be used to heighten overall attention and improve sensitivity to the movements and capacities of muscles and joints.

Mental rest—particularly techniques like paradoxical relaxation and rapid self hypnosis can:

1. Calm people down

2. Increase alertness

3. Help visualize better performance modes

4. Rapidly relax muscles

5. Improve learning of plays

Social rest can make sports more fun, and improve team and group cohesion and spirit.

Spiritual rest—particularly when engaging different forms of very quick meditation—can be used to prepare before contests, to heighten attention and concentration during games, and maintain focus on longer term goals while helping the body repair.

Bottom Line:

The differences, especially the higher the skill level, between winning and losing athletes and teams is often miniscule. A small edge becomes the winning edge.

The advantages gained from proper rest are not small. People show better muscle and pulmonary function; remember better; are calmer, more concentrated and relaxed; more aware of their bodies and their teammates; able to learn better; more capable of recognizing injury and eventually treating it.

Competitive sports are hard on the body. Rest and recovery is critical to the body regeneration necessary to remain athletically effective.

Remember, Rest > Sleep, and Regeneration >> Rest. All are elements most athletes can enjoy and improve. All are necessary to good sports performance—especially peak performance.

And the pleasures and victories they provide.

 

Matthew Edlund, M.D. researches rest, sleep, performance, and public health; he is the author of Healthy Without Health Insurance and The Power of Rest.

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