Sleep plays an important role in brain function, emotional well-being, immune system defenses, and overall health. While you are sleeping, your brain is forming new pathways to help you absorb new information the next day. Healthy, consistent sleep habits enhance your ability to learn, solve problems, pay attention, and be creative. Sleep deficiency decreases your ability to control your emotions and behaviors and hinders your ability to focus. It also increases risks of depression and negative risk-taking behaviors.
Not only is sleep vital to your cognitive abilities as they relate to academics and decision-making, sleep also impacts your athletic performances. Here are a few ways sleep impacts your sport:
- Sleep deprivation reduces reaction times. A single all-nighter can reduce reaction times by more than 300% plus it takes several days to recover. Reacting quickly to the ball or buzzer is key for starting your performance off right. Sleep deprivation also decreases the ability to recall information, concentration and alertness. All of these qualities can affect academic performance.
- Fatigue affects the body’s immune system. This makes athletes more susceptible to illnesses and reduces the rate at which their bodies heal after an injury or post-workout recovery. A good night of rest helps to speed up muscle recovery, which prepares you for tomorrow’s practice (or competition).
- Sleep loss impairs performance. As mentioned, a good night of sleep prepares your body to function both physically and mentally the next day. Without sleep, you are setting yourself up for unnecessary struggles.
- Sleep deficiency causes impaired judgments and hinders motivation, focus, memory, and learning. This mental fatigue hurts your game. Make sure you get an adequate amount of sleep each night to reduce your mental errors.
- Sleep improves your speed and accuracy, thereby, increasing your performance. (To read more about the studies conducted on sleep and athletic performance, click here.)
- Sleep allows your brain to transfer the new information you learned that day into your long-term memory. This process happens during your REM sleep. The ability to retain the information learned or studied before a test depends on your sleep habits. Already mentioned is how one single all-nighter can affect your performance as an athlete, the same is true for your performance in the classroom.
- Getting plenty of good quality sleep can lead to mental wellness. One night of bad sleep can cause a more irritable mood, leaving you sad and sluggish. Continued sleep deprivation can lead to serious mood disorders and mental illness.
Now that you’ve read about a few benefits of sleep, here are a few practical suggestions to reach the recommended average of 8+ hours a night.
- Stick to a schedule. Consistency (even on weekends) helps to regulate your body’s internal clock making it easier to fall asleep (and stay asleep) at night.
- Establish a routine. We are creatures of habit. Having a routine signals your body you are preparing for sleep. As part of your routine, try to create space in your evening to relax and wind down before getting into bed.
- Avoid long naps during the day.
- Avoid caffeine within 4 hours of bedtime.
- Stay away from bright lights (and electronics) right before bedtime.
- Create a sleep environment. A quite, cool, dark, and comfortable place to lay your head is ideal. Avoid doing homework, talking on the phone, and watching TV in your bed.