Sleep Your Way to a Scholarship
Often, both parents and athletes are looking for a quick fix when it comes to recovery. What tool can I use to help myself recover better? What do the most elite athletes do to help your body recover? Most people are shocked at the simplicity of my answer to these questions: "I get 8 hours of sleep. I go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every day." It is the most simple and powerful thing that you can do for your recovery. Invest in your sleep!
Recovery tools and supplements are all the rage these days. We have massage guns, cryotherapy, napping pods, and blue light glasses, on top of supplements like melatonin and even some pain relievers with sleep aids to help us fall asleep and stay asleep. I'm not saying these do not have their place, but they are just temporary band-aids to a lot of issues that could just be solved with a good night's snooze. We all know that we need to get more sleep, but we definitely do not prioritize NATURAL sleep like we should. To help with that, I have provided some recent research about just how damaging a bad night's sleep can be on our performance. Chances are if you are an up and coming athlete, setting consistent sleep boundaries may be the one thing that takes your performance to a new and elite level.
So, why do we sleep? And why is sleep so important?
We sleep to recover and reset. Sleep is the most effective thing we can do to turn our brains off so that our body can function properly and in a healthy manner when it is awake. We know that the shorter you sleep the shorter your lifespan. We know that REM sleep recalibrates and fine-tunes the emotional circuit of the human brain and also aids in creativity and productivity. Sleep is also a memory aid, allowing you to improve test scores and overall GPA. We also know that post-game/workout sleep accelerates physical recovery from common inflammation, stimulates muscle repair, and helps restock cellular energy in the form of glucose and glycogen. All of this is proven by research from sleep centers all over the world.
Here is some more eye-opening research:
40% of college athletes obtain less than 7 hours of sleep per night and 51% report high levels of daytime sleepiness (1). This means that if you actually sleep how much you are supposed to, you automatically have a competitive advantage over your opponent. How? Less sleep makes you weaker and slows you down. Studies have shown that hours of sleep is a predictor of squat 1 rep maximum velocity and RPE, meaning that greater sleep led to more weight being lifted and an actual feeling of strength being gained (2). Studies have also shown us that as sleep hygiene suffers, so does cognitive function and focus, leading to impaired reaction time, memory, and learning (3). Don't miss what I wrote there. One of the biggest factors that can influence softball performance is your reaction time, especially as a hitter. Improving your sleep habits is the best way to improve your reaction time and your focus.
I know I have been guilty of this at times, where I think I can get by with 6 hours of sleep instead of the recommended 8 hours. I have told myself that the last couple of hours aren't that important. I mean, I'm sleeping right? I don't have insomnia. I recently read a book called Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, a sleep researcher at the University of California - Berkeley. If you haven't read it, you definitely should. I believe that all athletes and parents of athletes should read this book to help us not only improve our athletic performance, but our emotional well being as well. Here is an excerpt from the book that caught my attention:
"My final discovery, in what spanned almost a decade of research, identified the type of sleep responsible for the overnight motor-skill enhancement, carrying with it societal and medical lessons. The increases in speed and accuracy, underpinned by efficient automaticity, were directly related to the amount of stage 2 NREM, especially in the last two hours of an eight-hour night of sleep (e.g., from five to seven a.m., should you have fallen asleep at eleven p.m.)." - Translation: If you want to improve as a softball player, the last two hours of sleep in your eight hours are the MOST important for you to achieve.
I may have convinced you that you need more sleep at this point, at least I hope I have. But, what exactly does healthy sleep hygiene look like? We need to give our bodies time to wind down and relax. This can be things like reading a book before bed, washing your face with warm water, and creating a noise-free environment. One of my favorite things to do is to hop in the hot tub at the hotel I am staying in or the hot tub we have at our new house. It helps me create an extremely relaxed state of mind. Eliminating devices from the bedroom is also critical. Research has shown that implementing multiple sleep hygiene strategies, including avoiding electronic devices before bedtime, prolonged both Time in Bed and Sleep Duration (4, 5).
Here are some things I do for my bedtime routine that gets me prepared for a high quality 8 hours of sleep:
Wearing blue light glasses after sundown
Static Stretching/Hot Tub
Comfy and Cool Pajamas
Plug phone into charge, set alarm, and do not look at it again
Read a few pages of a book in dim lighting
Make sure room temperature is cool
Room is totally dark (NO TV, iPad, Computer, Phone, nightlight, etc)
Wake up consistently at the same time every day (between 6-7am, NO MATTER WHAT).
A nighttime meditation using the Calm or Headspace app
If you want to be a high-performance athlete, a good night's sleep and consistent sleep routine may just be the one thing preventing you from leveling up your game. It could be the key to you gaining an advantage over your opponents, staying healthier, having quicker reaction times, and increasing your capacity to learn more both on an off the field. You can literally sleep your way to a scholarship, but only if you prioritize the one body you have been blessed with.
(Mah CD, Kezirian EJ, Marcello BM, Dement WC. Poor sleep quality and insufficient sleep of a collegiate student-athlete population. Sleep Health 4: 251–257, 2018.)
Haischer, Michael H.1; Cooke, Daniel M.1; Carzoli, Joseph P.1; Johnson, Trevor K.1; Shipherd, Amber M.2; Zoeller, Robert F.1; Whitehurst, Michael1; Zourdos, Michael C.1 Impact of Cognitive Measures and Sleep on Acute Squat Strength Performance and Perceptual Responses Among Well-Trained Men and Women, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: February 2021 - Volume 35 - Issue - p S16-S22
Fullagar HHK, Skorski S, Duffield R, et al. Sleep and athletic performance: The effects of sleep loss on exercise performance, and physiological and cognitive responses to exercise. Sports Med 45: 161–186, 2015.
4. Duffield, R, Murphy, A, Kellett, A, and Reid, M. Recovery from repeated on-court tennis sessions: Combining cold-water immersion, compression, and sleep recovery interventions. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 9: 273–282, 2014.
Fullagar, H, Skorski, S, Duffield, R, and Meyer, T. The effect of an acute sleep hygiene strategy following a late-night soccer match on recovery of players. Chronobiol Int 33: 490–505, 2016.