Work, effort, and a well-balanced diet are the foundations of peak athletic performance. However, there’s a simple way to boost your performance that’s often forgotten – sleep. Athletes, especially those who do intense training sessions, need adequate sleep to not only stay mentally sharp but to give their bodies sufficient recovery time.

Sleep for Mental Clarity and Reaction Times

Sleep deprivation, which happens anytime you get less than seven hours of sleep, causes changes in the brain and body that can come back to hinder athletic performance. As sleep time is reduced so too are the speeds at which neurons in the brain send their messages. Everything from decision-making skills to reaction times lags as the brain slows. Delayed thinking and reaction times can mean the difference between avoiding an accident and ending a race in disaster.

Injury Prevention and Recovery Time

Tired muscles and connective tissues lack the strength to support tendons, ligaments, and bones, making you more likely to injure yourself when fatigued. A study published in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics found that student-athletes who got seven hours or less sleep per night were 1.7 times more likely to get injured them those who slept over eight hours. The longer, more frequent and intense your workouts the more sleep you’ll need for the body to recover. For the best injury prevention, rest has to be an integral part of your training program.

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Get a Performance Boost

In a study conducted amongst collegiate basketball players, it was found that speed, endurance, and reaction times improved with an extended sleep period. The athletes’ performance was first measured when they got less than seven hours of sleep and compared to their performance after ten hours of sleep. Sprint times were a full second faster, and free throw percentages increased with the extended sleep time. Results also showed that the athletes enjoyed less daytime sleepiness and improved mood.

How to Get Better (and More) Sleep

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Adequate sleep not only has physical benefits but improves mental and emotional health, which can come back to impact physical performance. If you’re participating in an intense training program, you’re going to need more sleep than the average person. A goal of eight to ten hours can give your body the time it needs to heal and recover.

To help yourself fall and stay asleep try some of these healthy sleep habits:

  • keep a regular sleep-wake schedule

  • avoid stimulants close to bedtime

  • turn off electronic devices within two hours of bedtime

  • take short 20 to 30-minute naps for a midday energy boost

If you still struggle to get enough sleep despite developing good sleep habits, you may have an undiagnosed sleep disorder. Talk to your physician to see if you may be at risk. By making sleep a full partner in your training program, you can give yourself the advantage you need to cut seconds and improve percentages.

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