An ongoing study suggests that athletes who get an extra amount of sleep are more likely to have better performance, mood, and alertness.
These findings spring from an investigation involving five students on the Stanford University men's and women's swimming teams.
The participants maintained their usual sleep-wake patter for the first two weeks of the study, and then extended their sleep to 10 hours per day for six to seven weeks.
Their performance was assessed after each regularly scheduled swim practice.
It was observed that athletes swam a 15-meter meter sprint 0.51 seconds faster, reacted 0.15 seconds quicker off the blocks, improved turn time by 0.10seconds, and increased kick strokes by 5.0 kicks after having extra sleep.
"These results begin to elucidate the importance of sleep on athletic performance and, more specifically, how sleep is a significant factor in achieving peak athletic performance," said lead author Cheri Mah of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory.
"While this study focuses specifically on collegiate swimmers, it agrees with data from my other studies of different sports and suggests that athletes across all sports can greatly benefit from extra sleep and gain the additional competitive edge to perform at their highest level," she added.
She and her colleagues observed that daytime sleepiness getting extra sleep also led to mood improvements, including higher ratings of vigour and lower ratings of fatigue.
"Typically, many athletes accumulate a large sleep debt by not obtaining their individual sleep requirement each night, which can have detrimental effects on cognitive function, mood, and reaction time. These negative effects can be minimized or eliminated by prioritising sleep in general and, more specifically, obtaining extra sleep to reduce one's sleep debt," she said.
Mah also highlighted the findings of a previous study, involving six players on the Stanford men's basketball team, wherein performance measures like sprint times and free-throw shooting improved after extra sleep, as did ratings of mood and alertness.
Having studied the impact of extra sleep on players related to different sport activities at Stanford, Mah is now planning to work with athletes at other colleges.
"It is interesting to note that many of the athletes in the various sports I have worked with, including the swimmers in this study, have set multiple new personal records and season best times, as well as broken long-standing Stanford and American records while participating in this study," she said.
"Many of the Stanford coaches are definitely more aware of the importance of sleep. Coaches have even started to make changes to their practice and travelling schedules to allow for proper sleep habits. For many athletes and coaches, this study was the first time they truly understood how large of an impact sleep can have on their performance and results," she added.
Mah believes that professional athletes, who are seeking a unique competitive advantage these days, may actually enhance their performance by making sleep a part of their regular training regimen.
She will present her findings at the SLEEP 2008 22nd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS) in Baltimore.