By Jaime Drumm | How To Improve Performance & Enhance Recovery Times | The Answer Might Surprise
Preface By Janx....
I feel that sleep is one of the key components to successfully coaching and playing high level sport.
I personally have sometimes had trouble sleeping both during the playing days and now coaching so personally really appreciate the kind of information Jaime puts forward.
Some of the causes I feel were:
Concern about others. Worrying about athletes that play for me injuries, performances etc.
Pressure I put on myself to succeed and fear of failing.
Injury and muscle soreness.
Calculating and planning gameplay, seasons and tactics and not able to switch off.
Some of the tactics I have tried to help that I feel work well:
Drink Chamomile tea before bed.
Swisse herbal sleeping tablets.
Sleep spray (you can buy at a supermarket).
Having a notepad to write down any thoughts and worry about them in the morning.
Sleep is often an issue for athletes competing at the National and International level and it is something I often discuss with them. Certainly state teams I coach we openly discuss how to manage off court stress and thoughts during the Nationals week to enhance sleep.
I am looking forward to reading of Jaime Drumm's suggestions, techniques and available services myself.
Over to Jaime....
You’re down 1.
There’s 2 second left on the clock.
No time outs left and your best player stands at the free throw line with two shots.
If anyone was to take these free throws, you couldn’t think of anyone better.
There’s a nervous energy in the air as they step to the stripe and methodically go through their free throw routine.
The first shot is short, hitting the front of the rim. It’s obvious the legs just aren’t there.
You could cut the tension with a knife.
You think to yourself “it’s ok, there’s still a chance to send the game into overtime. “
The crowd erupts in encouragement, then again fall silent.
The second shot goes up...
It misses long, hitting the back of the iron, over compensating for the previous error. The rebounders wrestle for the ball and before you know it, the game is over.
This loss really stings, on the line was a position in the top 4 and at that stage of the tournament anything can happen. Now a top 8 finish is the best you can do.
After the game on the bus ride back to your accommodation, you’re running through the game what the team did well but focusing mostly on the mistakes and things you could have done better.
Not only was the team emotionally flat, they were physically and mentally exhausted. Simple rotations, defensive schemes, and basic tendencies shown in the scout weren’t followed.
But why? Your team is well drilled and disciplined and there was no doubting their effort or desire to win.
“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”
— Vince Lombardi
Over the last 30 years great strides have been made in many facets of athlete preparation integral to developing a winning game plan for big tournaments. Understanding nutrition, conditioning, hydration and the mental preparation required for elite level athletes to succeed have all rightly been elevated in the psyche of the sport.
Coaches spend countless hours staying up to date with the latest training methods, game styles, and tactics, honing their skills on the practice floor and in-game coaching. More time still, scouting their opponents, preparing practice plans and tournament daily schedules.
However, there is another aspect of preparation for peak performance that is currently going unnoticed by the vast majority of sports people and the coaching staff and administrations that support them.
In this article, I’ll show you how you can take advantage of cutting edge research that could provide you the competitive advantage you need to overcome an evenly matched opponent when it matters most.
How Sleep Affects Performance
Fatigue Science has a great article about the 5 biggest impacts sleep can have on an athlete’s performance. I highly recommend digging deeper into it over there if you want further detail. I’ll quickly summarise here.
Improved reaction times – Studies have shown poor sleep can impair reaction times as much or more so that being drunk
Reduced injuries – A University of California study found injury rates increased the day following a night of 6 or fewer hours sleep. While another study focused on high school athletes discovered duration of sleep was closely linked to injury rates, even more closely associated than hours of practice.
Longer playing careers – this recent study on MLB players showed fatigue can shorten the playing careers of professional athletes. “Sleepiness impairs performance... we can use the science of sleep to predict sports performance”. W. Christopher Winter (principal investigator)
Increased accuracy, faster times – Cheri Mah, a researcher at Stanford, conducted a sleep-extension study with the men’s university basketball team (sleep extension is increasing the hours of sleep per day). “Subjects demonstrated a faster timed sprint following sleep extension. Shooting accuracy improved, with free throw percentage increasing by 9% and 3-point field goal percentage increasing by 9.2%.”
Less mental errors – One study has shown that MLB players show decreased “plate discipline” as the season progresses. This means, when at bat, the percentage of balls swung at outside the strike zone increases over the course of the season. Principal Investigator Scott Kutscher, M.D., had this to say. “A team that recognizes this trend and takes steps to slow or reverse it – by enacting fatigue-mitigating strategies, especially in the middle and late season, for example – can gain a large competitive advantage over their opponent.”
Insightful Infographic Data Points
Tennis players were able to boost their hitting accuracy by 42% with a healthy sleep routine
4.3% - How much split second decision making is improved by quality sleep
Maximum bench press dropped by 20lbs when sleep was restricted for 4 days
10 hours sleep per night – Steve Nash
12 hours sleep per night – Lebron James
“I think that napping every game day, whether you feel like it or not, not only has a positive effect on your performance that night but also a cumulative effect on your body thought the season.” – Steve Nash
The big takeaway for me from what we’ve seen so far is that sleep matters. We spend so much time and rightly so thinking about nutrition, hydration, conditioning, and mental preparation. Until now however, how many of us actually consider sleep on a level playing field, in relation to its importance for athlete success at an elite level?
Coaches too are constantly making calculations and reacting to in-game stimuli and the decisions they make could affect the outcome of the game.
For the early adopters there are huge opportunities, both for peak performance, and durability.
What You Need To Know About Sleep Science
Here is another fantastic resource that goes into detail about the science. Towards the end, it lays things out in simple terms about what is important when learning about a player’s habits and biological predisposition when it comes to sleep.
How long each person needs to sleep – 7-10 hours depending on the individual
How long it should take to get to sleep – 20-30 minutes after turning off the light.
Focus on the time that you wake up without an alarm clock
There were a series of questions you could ask yourself to understand your individual circadian timing, the most important of these were;
Is night when you do your best work?
Is sleeping before 1am difficult for you?
Are mornings difficult?
Are you awake and eager to go around 10-11am?
If you need an alarm clock to wake up, your brain and body aren’t fully rested due to your lack of sleep.
Quality of sleep is said to be “critical” and suggests that if athletes manage to sleep but are unrested, that they may in fact have a sleep disorder. Movement disorders can be the cause if sheets and quilts are thrown about in the night. Sleep apnea or bruxism, which is a grinding of the teeth, can also drastically disturb sleep quality, and in some cases sleep apnea can be fatal.
This talk has a great insight that I think can really impact the lives of anyone who feels like they may have a sleep deficit. It says that for the body to recover we need to think in terms of “total sleep requirement per day.” It gives the example of 7 hours sleep a day would be 49 hours for the week, whereas with 8 hours a day you would total 56 hours for the week. If you had previously determined that you needed 56 hours then you would understand how much sleep debt you have accumulated per week and can develop napping strategies to “catch up”.
It goes on to say, “An individual’s sleep phase is a. genetically determined b. environmentally reinforced.” If we look at our own lives and the people around us I’m sure we can find anecdotal evidence that backs this up.
As mentioned in this article, for most adults 10pm until 8am is seen as the normal sleep phase. The deepest sleep comes at roughly 2-3am, while 12 hours later at 2-3pm the body again is ready for rest. This can be an ideal time for naps.
Night owls however have a delayed sleep phase and ideally they would be going to bed at 1-2am and waking at 11-12 noon. There will be a general need for help adjusting their sleep to match the training or playing schedule during a tournament.
Whereas larks have an advanced sleep phase, sleeping from 8pm until 6am, and are easier to manage during tournaments. These preferences should be considered and strategies developed to prepare the athlete for competition and creating a competitive advantage.
These strategies will have the most effect if they are implemented well before the tournament itself to allow the athletes or coaches to get comfortable with their new routine and in turn get the best results.
Sleep Quality Disturbance
Sleep quality disturbance can be segmented into two types. “The difference is the athlete’s perception and awareness of the sleep disturbance.” Says Dr. Charles Samuels, Medical Director, Centre for Sleep and Human Performance. “Non-Restorative Sleep is defined as the perception of sleep but waking un-rested and suffering daytime fatigue that cannot be explained by training volume/intensity. Disturbed sleep is described as restless, light sleep, easily woken from sleep resulting in waking unrested and suffering fatigue that cannot be explained by training volume/intensity.”
Specific Steps You And Your Athletes Can Take
What steps can an athlete or coach can take to enhance sleep in the lead up to and DURING tournaments, I hear you ask.
These are a great tool for helping athletes understand what their regular sleeping patterns are, if their sleep is inconsistent or how their sleep is affected by trainings and games. Once they have the data they can then make appropriate adjustments to their sleep/rest schedule and continue their experimentation.
Click here for an example of a simple sleep log that you can use.
Create A Sleep Schedule
Taking into account priorities and responsibilities map out a suitable sleep schedule for the individual based on the information gathered previously. If you are trying to adjust their sleep schedule over time be realistic about the changes you make. 15 minutes earlier every 3-4 days is suggested by Stephanie Silberman, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist, sleep specialist and author. She also reminds us to “keep in mind that feeling groggy when you get up is normal. Most people don’t wake up full of energy.” Expecting to feel drowsy for about 20 to 30 minutes is common.
You Have A Plan. Now What?
Once the individual creates a sleep schedule, the focus must be on sticking to the plan. Being consistent is half the battle, so creating a regular night time routine can make a big difference.
This article from the Harvard Medical School provides a simple yet effective 12-step plan to sleep hygiene, which it describes as “a variety of practices and habits.” Please read the article for an extended view, but I’ll summarise;
Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, Nicotine, and Other Chemicals that Interfere with Sleep
No caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime
Create A Positive Sleep Environment
A dark, cool and quiet space
Develop a Relaxing Pre-Sleep Routine
Practice relaxation exercises, listen to relaxing music or meditate
Avoid stressful, or emotional situations in the hour before bed
Go To Sleep When You’re Truly Tired
If not asleep in 20 minutes get out of bed, do something relaxing (this does not include screen time) until you are tired
Don’t Focus On The Clock While You’re In Bed
This can increase stress making sleep more difficult
Use Light As Your Ally
Let natural light in first thing in the morning to assist your body to synchronise its circadian rhythm
Fix your Internal Clock By Implementing A Consistent Sleep Schedule
Getting up and going to bed at a regular time each day sets the body’s "internal clock" to expect sleep at a certain time each night. Stick to your routine on weekends as best you can to avoid a Monday morning sleep hangover. The best way to set your body clock is waking up at the same time each day
Nap Early – Or Not At All
Before 5pm is recommended
Reduce Size Of Evening Meals
Look to finish eating at least 2 hours before bed. If hungry close to bed, snack size portions of carbohydrate rich foods are best
Balance Fluid Intake
Keeping your fluids up is important, but you don’t want to be waking up in the night to go to the toilet
Try to finish exercise at least 3 hours before bed
Stick To Your Routine
Changes for better sleep will greatly improve
If difficulties don’t improve consult a doctor or sleep specialist
Naps should be limited to 20-30 minutes with the athlete waking without an alarm feeling refreshed. It’s important that the naps are no longer than 30 minutes as the individual would then enter stages 3 and 4 sleep. Upon waking they will instead feel very tired and sleepy.
If longer naps are needed this shows that there is significant sleep debt and if this is the case, the athletes’ sleep schedule should be reassessed.
If the individual finds that they can’t sleep, just closing their eyes and resting will also have significant benefits as arousal is reduced.
Anxiety Prior To Competition
This study from The Australian Institute Of Sport found “64.0% of athletes indicated worse sleep on at least one occasion in the nights prior to an important competition over the past 12 months. The main sleep problem specified by athletes was problems falling asleep (82.1%) with the main reasons responsible for poor sleep indicated as thoughts about the competition (83.5%) and nervousness (43.8%).”
With anxiety being such a regular occurrence for athletes during big competitions having a focused plan can be the difference between a good night’s sleep and a poor performance the following day due to a lack of sleep.
Sleep Tool Kit
This study from 2016 states their findings “Music is a safe and effective nonpharmacological intervention for improving the sleep quality... especially in improving sleep latency, sleep efficiency, and daytime dysfunction.”
Others prefer the sounds of nature, a running stream, or waves on a beach.
It really comes down to personal preference. The main idea is to find something that works for you and make it part of your regular night time routine.
Having strategies for scenarios that you regularly encounter and are detrimental to your ability to fall asleep are also wise. The video that I created about How To Stop Worrying In Bed can assist in dealing with this troubling issue.
Sleep benefits all aspects of physical competition and injury prevention. If athletes knew there was a way to increase human growth hormone and reduce stress associated chemicals, enhancing their speed of recovery and improve their performance they wouldn’t give it a second thought.
Empowered with the knowledge and tools, your elite athletes, coaches and support networks can now have the advantage over their opponents.
“We’re teaching our players: Sleep is a weapon.”
— Sam Ramsden, Dir. of Player Health and Performance, Seattle Seahawks
Quote credit: Fatigue Science