By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor
JOPLIN, Mo. —
A series of studies confirms something athletic trainers have known for years: Well-rested athletes have an edge in competition.
"I've seen it when I've worked one-day or two-day tournaments," said Mylene Ray, an athletic trainer with Freeman Sports Medicine. "Besides taking in fuel, if they are lacking in sleep, there's more wear on their body."
Sleeping is already critical for children, Ray said. The act of everyday learning and living already keeps the brain busy.
"When you throw in athletics, that's not just cognitive levels, that's physical levels," Ray said. "It's another layer they have to learn and absorb."
According to a report by Lee Bowman of Scripps Howard News Service, plenty of recent research points to players getting a competitive advantage from sleeping:
A series of studies of swimmers, tennis players, football players and basketball players at Stanford University over several years showed that athletes who extended their normal sleep time to eight to 10 hours a night substantially boosted performance.
They ran or swam faster and basketball players bumped up their accuracy on both free throws and three-pointers by about 9 percent. The players also had faster reaction times and improved moods.
Ray said sleep is the perfect way for an athlete to recharge.
"When the body gets enough rest, it's set up to optimize to its full potential," Ray said. "A lack of sleep makes recovery difficult."
And though there isn't sufficient evidence to back it up, Ray said it's reasonable to draw a conclusion between lack of sleep and risk of injury. A Chicago study backs that idea up.
According to Bowman's report, studies at the University of Chicago more than a decade ago showed that as little as one week of sleep deprivation in otherwise healthy young men reduced their ability to metabolize glucose by 30 to 40 percent. They also had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood, which inhibits muscle recovery.
Other research has shown being short on sleep cuts aerobic endurance and makes people feel as though their bodies are working harder.
The factors most closely related to injury were hours of sleep, followed by the athlete's year in school (freshman, sophomore, etc.). Risk of injury rose 2.3 times with each higher level.
Parents with athletic children simply have to make sure they get enough sleep. But the catch is that it has to be good sleep, Ray said.
"Even though an athlete may be physically exhausted, that's not the same thing as getting good sleep," Ray said. "The body needs REM sleep."
That means parents shouldn't let athletes crash on the couch for a couple of hours, Ray said. Send them to bed for some well-earned shut-eye.
That might be tough for some athletes after a game, however. If there is a lot of adrenaline, the body takes a bit of time to calm down.
Routines help that problem, Ray said.
"If you stick to a good bedtime routine, they know what's coming up next," Ray said. "The body gets in tune to what it's supposed to do."
A pair of studies, reported during a meeting of sleep experts this summer, noted that National Football League and Major League Baseball players who report experiencing more daytime sleepiness are more likely to get cut or retire early than other players.
The studies relied on surveys of pro players done by Dr. Christopher Winter, a specialist at the Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, Va., and his colleagues.
The football study involved 55 randomly selected college players drafted into the NFL. Sleep questionnaires showed that the sleepier athletes had only a 38 percent chance of staying with the team that first drafted them, compared to 56 percent of the less sleepy players.
The baseball study looked at the sleepiness ratings of 40 randomly selected players and found that the sleepiest had attrition rates of 57 percent to 86 percent, much higher than the average MLB rate of 30 to 35 percent.
Winter noted that teams might use sleepiness assessments in making draft selections, but could also use them to better address performance issues and prolong careers.
Source: Scripps Howard News Service