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Sleeping more to Enhance Performance

In November, I wrote about the Boston Celtics eliminating the pre-game shoot-around, a staple of most college and professional teams due to habit, not any indication of additional performance. After consulting with a Harvard-trained sleep specialist, Celtics Head Coach decided sleep was more important than the shoot-around. Now, more teams are following his lead.

A growing interest in sleep science and a recognition that players need more time to recharge is fueling the trend.

“You’re talking about our players functioning on five or six hours of sleep a day,” Rivers said, “and that’s just not good enough.”

“If you go three, four, five days in a row with less than six hours of sleep, your reaction time is comparable to that of someone legally drunk,” Rivers said. “You’re trying to play a basketball game where just a 10th of second, a degree off, throws your whole game off.”

Encouraging more sleep, as opposed to more work, goes against the athletes’ ethos. We believe that something needs to be harder to be effective. Sleeping more does not seem difficult. However, to perform one’s best, an athlete needs his rest.

A key function of sleep is to restore neurons in the brain, a process that is critical to learning and mastering new information, he said. If players practice a new play, then get a sound night of sleep, they will be 20 percent better at performing it, Dr. Charles Czeisler, the director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the chief of the sleep medicine division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said. But with insufficient sleep, he said, “you simply never get that improvement.”

How many student-athletes rush home from a late practice or game, race through dinner and then stay up late studying or finishing homework? This type of environment does not help their learning in the classroom or on the court, especially when they have to get up early the next morning for school. We need to find ways to help student-athletes get more sleep and rest (and to eat properly) because an improved physical condition will help them in school and on the court.

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