Want to give your basketball team a leg up in its next athletic competition? Tell your players to get 10 hours of sleep the night before the big game.
The suggestion may not surprise you, but the potential benefits should.
In a new study appearing in the July issue of Sleep, a group of 11 Stanford University men's basketball players were able to boost their free-throw and 3-point shooting percentages by 9 percent and 9.2 percent, respectively, by sleeping 10 hours a night for roughly a month.
The researchers first asked the players to continue their regular sleeping schedule (sleeping anywhere from six to nine hours a night) for two weeks, then to sleep 10 hours each night for the next five to seven weeks. Players were prohibited from drinking coffee or alcohol during the entire study, and the researchers asked them to take daytime naps if travel made the 10 hours of sleep impossible during the night.
At the end of the study, the basketball players shaved nearly a second off their 282-foot sprint time (16.2 seconds vs. 15.5 seconds), and had the aforementioned boost to their free-throw and 3-point shooting percentages.
The study, author Cheri Mah says, proves that "sleep is an important factor in peak athletic performance."
"Intuitively, many players and coaches know that rest and sleep are important, but it is often the first to be sacrificed," she says in the study. "Healthy and adequate sleep hasn't had the same focus as other areas of training for peak performance."
Mah admitted that the sample size of 11 athletes was small, but the Stanford team afforded the researchers the opportunity to study elite athletes actively competing.
The researchers also issued a question-based sleepiness scale to the players at the beginning of the study, which led to one of the most surprising findings, according to Mah.
"The athletes were training and competing during their regular season with moderate-to-high levels of daytime sleepiness and were unaware that it could be negatively impacting their performance," she said in an interview with the Stanford School of Medicine. "But as the season wore on and they reduced their sleep debt, many athletes testified that a focus on sleep was beneficial to their training and performance."