Friday, December 23, 2016

If Only You Know The Power Of Sleep ....

The power of sleep
While I was still working at the Singapore Sports Council or SSC (now known as the Singapore Institute of Sport or SSI) I used to travel a lot with the Singapore badminton players while they were competing or training overseas.

And no matter where the badminton players were training or competing, their normal routine would be training in the morning, break for lunch and there would always be a nap after lunch before training again. Even our national table tennis players took daily naps when they were not out buying eggs (okay I'm just kidding). No disrespect meant!

Why am I writing about sleep here? You and I know that a lack of sleep can lead to negative consequences. It can affect your mood, cognitive function and physical performance. Few studies though have looked at the opposite - the effects that sleep extension can have on performance.

The American National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep a night for adults for general health and well being. But a study on Stanford basketball players by researchers Cheri Mah and colleagues showed that with 5-7 weeks of sleep extension, i.e. going to bed earlier and waking later, subjects had improved basketball performance, reaction time and running speed.

The researchers concluded that "extended sleep beyond one's habitual nightly sleep likely contributes to improved athletic performance."

As it is, most of us will find it difficult (myself included) to find more time to sleep. Our smart phones, the iPad, Netflix etc are big distractions. Yes, I have to stay up writing this so you can read it. Well, I'm not racing anymore.

Many of you will focus on improving your performance by training harder and smarter, but those improvements become smaller and more difficult to obtain after a while. Your fellow competitors will likely swim/ bike/ run similar intervals in addition to hitting the weights room etc. It all comes to to all the fine details. Some of these small gains (like sleep extension) are found outside of aerobic and interval training.

It's probably easier to change your bedtime to get more sleep by gradually going to sleep earlier. Try to go 15 to 30 minutes earlier each night to find a good time for yourself.

Sleeping in never happens for my wife and I, our boys are up by 6 am or earlier most mornings. If you can sleep in good for you.

I remember attending a meeting prior to the 2004 Athens Olympics where the then Director of High Performance, SSC was questioning the then CEO of Singapore Badminton Association (SBA) why the Singapore badminton players needed naps when they could be working part time or studying in between training as what many of the elite athletes at the Australian Institute of Sports do.

Then CEO of SBA's reply was if it (naps) has the potential to impact performance in a positive manner, then we try to take care of it.

In the picture below you see me more excited than Ronald Susilo after he defeated Lin Dan in the 1st round at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

That's how we should help our athletes.


Mah CD, Mah KE et al (2011). The Effects Of Sleep Extension On The Athletic Performance Of Collegiate Basketball Players. Sleep. 34(7): 943-950. DOI: 10.5665/sleep.1132

I really like this picture I took from a Star Wars book - Goodnight Darth Vader which I bought for my son by Jeffrey Brown.

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