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Ask Stanford Med: Cheri Mah taking questions on sleep and athletic performance

football kidIt’s football season and back-to-school time, which means evening routines in households across the country may be changing to accommodate homework, practice, dinner, and perhaps Monday Night Football-watching. For athletes of all ages and stripes, conversations may also be focused on optimizing performance and reducing the risk of injury, with such topics as conditioning technique and nutrition getting playing time in the discussions. But one thing that may not be getting enough attention is sleep, and its role in sports.

To boost the conversation of sleep’s part in athletic performance, we’ve asked Cheri Mah, a researcher with the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory, to respond to your questions on the topic. Sleep and sports are the focus of Mah’s work, dating back to a 2002 study during which collegiate swimmers reported they had beaten personal swim records after getting extra hours of sleep as part of their participation in the trial. A light bulb went off in Mah’s head, who decided then to investigate whether sleep extension could have an impact on physical performance. Since then she has researched the effects of sleep on numerous groups of athletes, including elite college-level basketball players (as detailed in a 2011 study), and she has two soon-to-be-published papers measuring the impact of sleep on Stanford football players and on NFL players. Over the last several years, Mah has also worked with many of the Stanford sports teams and coaches to integrate optimal sleep and travel scheduling into their seasons, and she consults on sleep issues with professional hockey, football and basketball teams.

Questions can be submitted to Mah by either sending a tweet that includes the hashtag #AskSUMed or posting your question in the comments section below. We’ll collect questions until Tuesday, September 17 at 5 p.m.

When submitting questions, please abide by the following ground rules:

  • Stay on topic
  • Be respectful to the person answering your questions
  • Be respectful to one another in submitting questions
  • Do not monopolize the conversation or post the same question repeatedly
  • Kindly ignore disrespectful or off topic comments
  • Know that Twitter handles and/or names may be used in the responses
  • Mah will respond to a selection of the questions submitted, but not all of them, in a future entry on Scope.

Finally – and you may have already guessed this – an answer to any question submitted as part of this feature is meant to offer medical information, not medical advice. These answers are not a basis for any action or inaction, and they’re also not meant to replace the evaluation and determination of your doctor, who will address your specific medical needs and can make a diagnosis and give you the appropriate care.

Previously: Stanford expert: Students shouldn’t sacrifice sleep, A slam dunk for sleep: Study shows benefits of slumber on athletic performance, Could game time affect a baseball player’s at-bat success? and Want to be like Mike? Take a nap on game day
Photo by Nick Weiler

6 Responses to “ Ask Stanford Med: Cheri Mah taking questions on sleep and athletic performance ”

  1. Mahesh Bhavana Says:

    Two situations before my question:

    1. I participate in multiple day cycling events and at the end of each day even after strenuous activity, I sometimes have trouble sleeping 6-8 hours.

    2. As a part of my training, I attend a spinning class or even a yoga class to stretch in the evening. I always have trouble sleeping after 1-1.5 hours of rigorous exercise in the evening.

    In both the above situations, the next day is less effective in my performance, due to lack of sleep but incomplete physical recovery from the activity.

    Any suggestions on how to get the required sleep and rest in either of these situations?

  2. Matthew Says:

    If I normally sleep only 6 hours per night, without the use of coffee or an alarm clock, how can I get myself to sleep more to improve my athletic performance?

  3. Chris M. Says:

    Is there a model for duration of REM and non-REM sleep for so-called “normal” people not suffering froma particular disorder?

    Also, is there any research on the topic of listening to music or other audio content to induce/maintain healthy, restorative sleep?

  4. Andrew Kloak Says:

    As I cross through my mid-40s, I notice that I need more sleep than I used to. I feel tired at around 9 p.m. so I honor that and go to bed soon after on those nights. I awake around the same time 5:30 a.m. Here is my question, is that typical or should I make some adjustments to my routine?

    I’ve always been a race horse of an athlete (i.e. I’m better in action than staying in the barn.) I play volleyball, run, ride my bike and lift weights each week.

  5. Eloise Says:

    Because of my work schedule, I tend to exercise in the evening during the week, usually taking a rigorous yoga class from 6 to 7:30 p.m. It feels great to be able to move and sweat after sitting in front of a computer for most of the day, but I notice I have a lot of trouble falling asleep afterward. Sometimes it takes until 2 a.m. to fall asleep after evening yoga, when otherwise I would fall asleep fairly quickly after turning in at 10:30 p.m. The teacher makes a point of including a long, steady cool-down in class, and I try to meditate and relax later in the evening but still find it difficult to unwind. From your or other research, do you have any recommendations for how to manage evening exercise and a good night’s sleep? Or do you recommend not exercising after a certain time of day?

  6. Max Bean Says:

    Do you have a sense of how many professional football teams monitor their players’ sleep, or counsel them to get enough? If any have done so, has there been a difference in player performance?

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