Sleep Tight, Play with Might
Sleep is important for health. We all know this. The details behind its significance, however, get lost for many of us. With the proper amount of sleep, our bodies are rejuvenated from the activities of the previous day, and are actually able to enhance our abilities for the upcoming day. Many studies show that without sleep, the body will act like it does when it has consumed alcohol: split-second decision-making skills, memory, focus, and accuracy decline, as do glycogen and carbohydrate levels which are energy sources that are stored for physical activity. On top of this there is an increase in the stress hormone cortisol, and fatigue. For athletes, this means that with lack of sleep comes higher risk of injury, and impaired game play caused by slow reaction times, lack of focus, and fatigue.
On the other hand though, with a little more sleep, game play can be heightened. Several studies have found that more sleep improves split-second decision-making by 4.3%, and betters reaction times. Specifically speaking, tennis players have actually increased hitting accuracy by a whopping 42% with just a little more shuteye. Many studies also show that moods become more positive with more sleep, which is important for the mental battle that occurs in tennis matches. Players especially benefit from the extra sleep on the court when they notice their bodies feel lighter and more vibrant, which in turn also helps to prevent injuries, allowing for more playtime in the long run.
Now we know why we need the sleep, but how much of it is enough?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends a minimum of 9 hours of sleep for teens, 7.5-8 hours for adults, and 10 hours for athletes. With this said, however, please keep in mind that these times slightly vary from person to person, and then again from night to night. Sometimes, though you might usually prefer 8 hours of sleep, if you’ve had more activity the day before, your body will ask for a longer time frame. It may help to keep a sleep log or similar tool to measure the length of time that’s best for you. Most athletes sleep between 8-10 hours, but even among the pros, the time lengths can vary greatly. Roger Federer and Lebron James prefer to get 12 hours every night whereas Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova, and Venus Williams prefer 8-9 hours of sleep. Find the amount of sleep that’s right for you.
If you are struggling to sleep or to find an average “feel good” sleep time, you could try some of these tips:
1. Create an optimal environment for sleep:
a. Have a sufficiently dark room with a small light.
b. Have a soft, constant, background noise like music to mask intrusive sounds
c. Have comfortable bedding
d. Have a reliable alarm cock
2. Keep a constant sleep schedule: wake and sleep at the same time daily
(yes, this includes weekends)
3. Use the bed ONLY for sleeping
4. Have everything already prepared for the next day.
5. Keep a pen and paper by your bed in case you have a thought
6. Avoid caffeine and alcohol 4-5 hours before sleep
7. Develop healthy ways to manage stress
8. Exercise earlier in the day, no later than 4 hours before bedtime
9. If you twitch before sleeping, try massaging yourself before you get in bed
10. Once in bed, focus on your slow, shallow, chest breathing
11. Relax your muscles from your toes and work up
12. If you still can’t sleep after 20 minutes of trying, get up and do something boring and un-stimulating
13. If you do happen to wake up in the middle of the night, try not to turn on bright lights
14. STAY AWAY FROM THE SNOOZE BUTTON
If your alarm goes off, get up and get moving.
15. Nap if feeling drowsy (20-30min) no more than 30min
16. If you do nap, do it earlier in the day and not too close to bedtime
If you didn’t get sufficient sleep the night before, a nap is a great idea. It has been proven that a 20-30 minute nap can improve a person’s alertness by 100% and therefore can be used as an effective means of enhancing performance in athletes; it is especially beneficial for athletes who routinely get up early. The key is to have a nap that follows the REM cycle, which usually means about 20-30 minutes. It allows us to wake up just as the cycle has finished and just before it begins again. If you do decide to nap, lunchtime has shown to be the most optimal time, but be careful not to sleep too close to bedtime, or you won’t be able to sleep for the night.
If you would like more information on this topic, please feel free to read these articles: