Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Research Review: Sleep

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Sleep!  I absolutely love to sleep, but unfortunately I'm in the wrong field with daily wake-up calls at 5:00am, but Sundays are the 1-day I get to play catch-up on some good sleep.  So it's only fitting that I write this on a Sunday morning after a good night of rest.

For athletes, sleep might be the most powerful tool you have for increasing performance.  It's also one of the easiest aspects to improve but often very under-managed.  It's very UNcommon to hear of an athlete we work with get to bed before 10pm, yet alone 11pm or midnight.

This is discouraging considering the impact quality sleep can have on athletes, especially those in high school or below.  The role sleep plays in energy levels, recovering from training, focus, attention, hormonal levels, and combating fatigue is clear.  Serious athletes have serious schedules, from training, to practice, to school, to games, to individual instruction, etc and this takes a major toll on the body.  The main weapon athletes have to balance this effort and make sure it turns into success on the field and in the classroom, is sleep!   

There is growing evidence that sleep duration and lack of sleep affect the onset of metabolic syndrome, obesity and type II diabetes, particularly via their association with increased body weight, glucose intolerance and high blood pressure (1).

Not only that but researchers have shown that sleep extension (adding on average of 110-minutes a night) increased shooting accuracy, decreased reaction times, decreased fatigue scales, and improved ratings of physical and mental ratings during practices and games in basketball players (2).


Collegiate Basketball players increased their sleeping patterns to around 10-hours a night and in return saw their free throw percentage increase by 9% and 3-point shooting percentage by 9.2%!  That's a lot of points to be had by a player and a team, and can mean the difference in the outcome of many games! 

When I talk to athletes athletes the common response is that it's not a big deal to lose sleep and it doesn't effect their playing ability.  But research tends to feel otherwise, and just 1.5 hours of sleep loss can decrease insulin sensitivity, decrease leptin concentrations, and can acutely decrease body weight, but chronically increase body weight (1).

In plain terms, decreased insulin sensitivity means insulin levels remain elevated for longer periods of time due to the lack of ability to get glucose in muscle tissues, ie not what we want.  Leptin is known to suppress appetite, so a lack of leptin can lead to increased hunger and appetite which may lead to weight gain.  This effect can be seen as studies appear to point to a relationship between lack of sleep and higher body mass index and fat percentage (3).

Literature is growing to show a clear relationship between lack of sleep and different potential health and performance problems.

"In summary, inadequate sleep, in both quality and quantity, should be regarded as a plausible risk factor for the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes. In addition to other health promotion measures, a good night's sleep should be seen as a critical health component by clinicians in the prevention and treatment of obesity and type 2 diabetes." (3)

Overall sleep deprivation can effect the following
  • Reduce Testosterone levels
  • Reduce Ability to Recover
  • Increase Stress
  • Increase Appetite
  • Increase Risk of Obesity
  • Increase Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
  • Decrease School, Athletic, and Work Performance
Tips For A Better Night of Sleep
  • Pitch Black - A huge hormone that helps control the whole sleep-wake cycle is melatonin.  Melatonin is greatly influenced by light; darkness increases melatonin production while light reduces melatonin levels.  At night we want complete darkness to help stimulate melatonin production which will aid in quality sleep.  So try to keep your room at dark as possible. 
  • Cool - Most sleep better in cool climates.  Try to keep your room around 65 degrees, whether this be with a fan or open windows.  Too hot or too cold a temperature, as we've all experienced, can effect quality of sleep.
  • No Electronics - This goes hand in hand with keeping your room as dark as possible.  Electronics stimulate the body and suppress melatonin.  They actually keep you awake and it takes longer for the body to reach deep sleep with these in the background.  So shut off all electronics 30-minutes before heading to bed!  Even better is to eliminate as many electronics as possible from your room.  Keep your computer, Ipad, Ipod, cell phone, etc out of your room at night.
  • Develop a Routine -  Getting into a routine or ritual before bed helps the body wind-down and get used to a pattern of sleep.  This can mean anything to anybody; whatever works for you, go for it.  Many like reading, writing, stretching, a hot bath, meditation, or listening to music.  The body starts to learn this routine, and knows when these activities start that it's their cue to wind-down and get ready for sleep.
  • Eat and Drink The Right Things -  Avoid eating big meals, caffeine, and alcohol too close to bed time (90-120min).  These things can effect your ability to fall asleep and the quality of your sleep. 

Now get those zzz's!

Go Get 'Em!


1.  Robertson, Russell-Jones, Umpleby and Dijk.  Effects of three weeks of mild sleep restriction implemented in the home environment on multiple metabolic and endocrine markers in healthy young men.  Metabolism Clinical And Experimental, 2013

2. Cheri, Mah; Kenneth, Mah; Kezirian, Eric; William, Dement.  The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players.  Sleep, July 1, 2011.  34(7), 943-950.

3. Jessica, McNeil; Eric, Doucet; Jean-Phillippe, Chaput.  Inadequate sleep as a contributor to obesity and type 2 diabetes.  Canadian Journal of Diabetes.  Volume 37, Issue 2, Pages 103-108. April 2013

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