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Sleep as Performance Enhancer?

For people who want to improve athletic performance, extra sleep may be critical. Sleeping even a modest amount more for 5 nights boosted the competitive advantage of professional baseball players enrolled in a study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.

In baseball, a fastball takes 400 milliseconds to move from pitcher to hitter, requiring almost immediate visual assessment and reaction by a batter. Investigators wanted to examine whether short-term sleep extension would affect the cognitive abilities required to perform this task.

They conducted the randomized controlled trial among professional athletes during a 4-week Major League Baseball training camp. After a 2-day baseline study that assessed habitual sleep duration among the athletes, 17 MLB players were assigned to either sleep extension or their habitual amount of sleep. For 5 nights, sleep-extension subjects reported sleeping an average of 1.1 hours longer than usual each night, though actigraphy indicated a mean nightly increase of just 0.6 hour. All athletes participated in assessments of visual search skills, mood and daytime sleepiness before and after the intervention.

Data analysis showed that fatigue, tension and daytime sleepiness decreased in sleep-extension participants by more than one-third. Response time for cognitive processing was 13% quicker among those who slept more—which translated into a 122-millisecond-faster response for visual processing and decision making. “Our research indicates that short-term sleep extension of one additional hour for five days demonstrated benefits on athletes’ visual search abilities to quickly respond when faced with distractors,” said lead study author Cheri D. Mah, MS, research fellow at the UCSF Human Performance Center, in an American Academy of Sleep Medicine news release.

“Fatigue over a season can negatively impact performance and possibly pitch recognition. These findings suggest that short-term sleep loading during periods of high training volumes may be a practical recovery strategy and fatigue countermeasure that has daytime performance benefits.”

In another, unrelated study, Stony Brook University researchers in Stony Brook, New York, found that tweeting behavior by National Basketball Association players the night before games influenced performance variables. Researchers analyzed data from 90 players and examined tweeting behavior between 11 p.m. on the night prior to play and 7 a.m. on game day against performance variables. A preliminary analysis showed that late-night tweeting by players was associated with fewer points scored per game and a lower shooting percentage for both field goals and free throws.

Both studies were presented at SLEEP 2017, the 31st Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Boston. For more information, go to www.aasmnet.org.

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