Earlier this month, tongues across the country wagged over Miami Heat star LeBron James' less-than-impressive outing in the NBA Finals. Now, weeks later, results of a new Stanford study are making me wonder: Might James have done better if he had just gotten more sleep?
In a paper appearing in the journal SLEEP, Cheri Mah and colleagues - who comprise one of the only research groups in the country to study the effect of sleep on athletes - looked at whether an increase in total sleep time improved the on-the-court performance of members of Stanford's men's basketball team. Their findings? During the period in which they got 10 or more hours of total sleep, the players ran faster sprints and improved their shooting accuracy during practice, and they reported lower levels of fatigue. The research suggests, Mah told me, that sleep is an important factor in reaching peak athletic performance.
Sleep doesn't have the same focus among athletes and trainers as things like nutrition and physical training, Mah says - but perhaps it should. Since the early 2000s, Mah and colleagues have been investigating sleep extension in other Stanford sports teams, including football, tennis, and swimming, and preliminary findings have mirrored what is seen in this publication: More sleep leads to better performance.
Mah is continuing her work in this area and hopes to soon turn her attention to quality, not just quantity, of athletes' sleep. She now consults on sleep issues with several Stanford sports teams, as well as some professional hockey, football and basketball teams, and she believes her findings may be applicable to recreational athletes and those at the high school, semi-pro or professional level. (James, are you listening?)