It’s about time we go back to basics and take into consideration something we do for 1/3 of our lives (i.e. sleep!) as having serious potential for elevating our athletic performance and well-being.
Don’t get me wrong, the foods we eat, the quality of water we drink and air we breathe, the community we surround ourselves with, and the exercises we do are all instrumental in the development of a highly functioning athlete whose risk of injury is minimized.
However, none of these variables are as freely and readily influenced as sleep. If you are unsure of its importance, simply refrain from sleeping for one night and see how you feel the next day.
I consider sleep a form of therapy because of the numerous health implications that come with it.
Let’s examine what happens to our body when we sleep, why sleep is especially important for basketball players, and what players and coaches in the game today are saying about sleep.
Early in June 2016, CBS Sports released an article discussing the importance of sleep in the NBA, both in terms of the health/performance of the players and the business/financial perspective.1
According to LeBron, whose opinion I value since it is coming from (arguably) the greatest basketball force on the planet today (hence why I left out his last name):
Sleep is the most important thing when it comes to recovery…. There’s no better recovery than sleep. LeBron James
And Kevin Durant is on the same page as LeBron.
Of course, on the basketball side, you have to fine-tune your skills. But on the other side, you have to fine-tune your body. There’s a lot of remedies you can use as a basketball player to get better, but the easiest thing you can do is go to sleep. Kevin Durant
The NBA is a multi-billion-dollar industry. NBA owners are now, more than ever before, becoming cognizant of the role sleep plays from a financial perspective.
According to a sports performance expert who consults with the NBA, “the cost of a star player suffering a significant injury is close to $100 million.”
Though it is still not a mainstream interest in the NBA, sleep is definitely beginning to be included in discussions as a strong influencer of player performance, longevity, and injury rates. It usually takes a long time for information that is being studied by a major entity such as the NBA to reach the general public.
My wish is that this article will speed this dissemination process and bring about an increased sense of urgency for all players, coaches, and parents everywhere to become mindful of sleeping habits and what it means to the overall effectiveness of a basketball player.
Physical & Mental Health
A frequently cited study conducted by Stanford University researchers examines the impact of extending sleep on specific performance measures. Eleven healthy student-athletes on the men’s varsity basketball team participated.
The subjects demonstrated faster sprint times, improved shooting accuracy (both free throw and 3-point field goals), reaction time and overall physical and mental well-being during practices and games, decreased daytime sleepiness/fatigue (therefore more effective training), and increased vigor.2
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has literally highlighted the need for sufficient sleep within adolescent athletesto ensure proper development, both physically and mentally.3 This recommendation, among others, has been implemented by the IOC to develop healthy, resilient, and capable youth athletes.
Without adequate sleep your body becomes much less resilient and therefore more susceptible to injuries. In another study with student-athlete participants, the athletes who slept an average of less than 8 hours per night were 1.7 times more likely to experience an injury compared to those sleeping a minimum of 8 hours per night.4
This appears to be especially true with increasing age – the older you are, the more important sleep becomes in preventing injury.
Even one night of sleep deprivation has been shown in Taekwondo athletes to have a counter-productive effect on performance in the evening of the following day.5, 6
Going to bed instead of staying up for an extra few hours to train seems to be more beneficial to the enhancement of your game. You are actually harming yourself and your ability to contribute your full potential on the court if you don’t get your sleep in check.
Strategies to Enhance and Approach Optimal Sleep
While 7-8 hours seems to be the agreed-upon sleep recommendation for the general public, athletes require more. Athletes put their bodies under more stress than the general public and thus require more sleep to ensure proper repair of the damage caused by exercise/training.
Mindfulness meditation (i.e. intentionally focusing on the emotions, thoughts, and sensations occurring in the present moment) appears to improve sleep hygiene in adults while reducing symptoms of insomnia, fatigue, and depression.7
Physical activity (i.e. aerobics/calisthenics, biking, gardening, golf, running, weight lifting, yoga, and Pilates) is associated with improved sleep. Even a simple activity such as walking promotes better sleep habits in those who regularly practice it.8
Those individuals who regularly have low access to green space and the natural environment experience insufficient sleep. Access to the natural environment attenuated the likelihood of reporting insufficient sleep.9 Go outside and look at the color green more often!
And eat more fatty fish! This includes salmon, herring, and sardines. These are all sources of ample omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to possibly extend sleep and reduce waking episodes while sleeping.10
The position you sleep in may also be important in maximizing the quality of your sleep. The most popular sleep position is the lateral position (on one’s side). This position seems to promote a more effective removal of harmful brain wastes (namely, amyloid-beta plaques, which are what characterize Alzheimer’s disease) during sleep.11
Optimal sleep may be the very thing that takes a player’s game to the next level, regardless of its simplicity. The role of sleep in athletics is becoming increasingly popular and it requires no investment of hundreds of dollars. It is free and available to everyone anywhere.
Improving sleep is a perfect example of how going back to the basics (i.e. fresh water, air, food, proper hygiene, movement, and sleep) can make a world of a difference in your performance as a basketball player. Start learning more about this topic today!