Student athletes are at an interesting crossroads in their lives. During childhood, sport is played for fun and rarely is it anything more than that. Making practice and trying your hardest is all that can be asked of you. Once you get to High School the pressure can begin to mount. Sport is more competitive than ever, and there are real rewards on the line for those who excel.
Once you reach college or university, the pressure can be as extremely high, as many professional athletes experience. Particularly in the higher profile sports.
In this climate, the student athletes who succeed are going to be the ones who work the hardest, remain injury free, and adapt to the increased pressure. This means that you need to be on top of every aspect of your health. This is where sleep comes into play.
In this article we are going to look at the importance of sleep for recovery and sporting performance, we will examine some specific scientific studies that have looked at student athletes and sleep, and we are going to answer the question “How much sleep do student athletes need?”.
We’re also happy to recommend our favorite natural sleep supplement, perfect for student athletes, Performance Lab Sleep. More on that shortly.
The Importance of Sleep
It seems crazy to have to say this, but in an era where #teamnosleep exists and many students are surviving on less than six hours it really cannot be understated: Sleep is vital for health, vitality, and performance. Sleep is a chance for your body to recharge its batteries, it helps to reduce physical and mental fatigue, and has a massive impact on your body at a hormonal level.
Studies from healthgrinder.com have shown that a bad night’s sleep can lead to increased appetite, reduced satiety (how full you feel after a meal), and it can even lead people to search out higher calorie foods rather than more sensible options.
Your ability to think straight can also be negatively affected by a lack of sleep. A 2007 study published in Neuropsychiatric Disease & Treatment found that partial sleep deprivation can seriously affect attention, while full sleep deprivation also led to poor memory and decision-making skills.
These decision-making skills are so incredibly important for sport, as well as study and work. Which is why it might be a better idea to prioritize a good night’s sleep over revising until 3am when you have an exam the next day. You’ll remember more, concentrate better, and make better decisions.
Sleep is vital for recovery from intense exercise. Muscle protein synthesis is the process where your body repairs damaged muscle fibers and replaces them, allowing your muscles to grow stronger and larger. It also helps to prevent injury. As you sleep, testosterone and growth hormone – both vital for this process – are released at a much higher level than they are while awake.
As you can imagine, sleep is deemed very important for student athletes. But let’s examine three studies that specifically looked at how sleep affected performance in student athletes.
Mah et al (2007)
In this study, six collegiate basketball players aged between 18-21 slept normally for two weeks to establish a baseline. They then participated in a period of extended sleep. This is where they would sleep for as much as they could each day.
The study found that the extended sleep led to significant improvements in athletic performance. The basketballers also found that they had more energy during their training and improved mood. There was also a reduction in mental fatigue during the game (which can affect decision making and reaction time).
Conclusion: Extending sleep led to an improvement in athletic performance and mood in collegiate basketball players.
Mah et al (2008)
While the first study focused exclusively on male athletes, this study looked at both male and female collegiate swimmers. The swimmers slept for two weeks as normal to establish a baseline, then for the next 6-7 weeks they slept for 10 hours per day. They were then tested for their 15m sprint time, reaction time off the block, and their turn time.
The extended sleep led to increased reaction time, faster sprint time, and improved turn time. The swimmers also reported improved mood.
Conclusion: Increasing sleep time to 10 hours per day led to improvements in reaction time, sprint time, turn time, and mood.
Mah et al (2011)
Perhaps the most well-known of the studies on sleep and athlete from Mah et al, this final study looked again at the effects of sleep extension on collegiate basketball players. This was a slightly larger study (though small by most standards) and featured eleven males who played in the Stamford Basketball team.
The basketballers slept normally for between two and four weeks to establish a baseline. Then they extended their sleep to a minimum of 10 hours per day for between five and seven weeks.
Again, the study found that the increased sleep allowed athletes to play at a much better rate. Shooting accuracy, 3-point score percentage, and sprint speed all increased, as did physical and mental wellbeing.
Conclusion: Sleeping for ten hours or more led to improvements in on-court performance as well as improvements in cognition.
How Much Sleep do Student Athletes Need?
As you can see from the studies, student athletes clearly benefit from extended sleep. The ideal time appears to be ten hours or over, though it would be interesting to compare nine hours or even eleven plus hours.
Ten hours per day does seem like quite a lot, and you’re probably wondering if doing this would impact your studying and social life. Well, it may well impact on your social life but that is one of the sacrifices that student athletes need to take if they want to succeed. But studying? The truth is that you may have less time to study, but thanks to improved mental clarity and cognition, you should see a marked increase in your study quality.
If you feel that you need further help in that area, you could also take a nootropic, a cognitive-enhancing supplement. As an athlete, of course, you need to be extremely careful about any supplements you take, which is why we would recommend Performance Lab Mind over any other.
Produced by reputable manufacturer, Opti-Nutra, Performance Lab Mind is vegan-friendly, and free of GMO, soy, gluten and other allergens, as well as free from artificial additives. It uses a simple all-natural but effective formula, should be free of side-effects, and is free of any banned substances.
Now that we know how much sleep a student athlete requires for optimal performance both on and off the field, let’s look at ways to improve your sleep quality and quantity.
Ways to Improve Sleep
There are many different ways in which you can improve your sleep. Here are some simple steps that you can take to do so right away:
- Schedule your Bedtime – Your body loves routine, and one of the best routines to have is an unmoving bedtime. If you continue to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time your body will quickly adjust to this. You will fall asleep quicker, wake up easier, and you will also be able to manage your sleep quantity well.
- Better Bedding – This tip is not quite as scientific as the rest, but having a better bed, pillow, and sheets will help you to relax more and therefore sleep better. Anyone who has tried to fall asleep on an uncomfortable couch can testify to this!
- Exercise Regularly – This is a no-brainer for student athletes as you need to exercise anyway, but regular exercise is a fantastic way to help you fall asleep quicker at night. Try to at least keep a high step count during your rest days.
- Diet – Eating foods that are high in the amino acid l-tryptophan has been proven to help you sleep better. Dairy is a really good source of this, particularly whey protein, cottage cheese, milk, yoghurt, and casein protein.
- Avoid Caffeine After 6pm – You may not realize it, but caffeine can stay in your system for several hours after ingestion. This means that the 7pm black coffee you drank may be what keeps you awake at midnight. Try to avoid caffeine for five to six hours before you go to bed. If you train at night, then consider a pre-workout that avoids stimulants such as caffeine. For example, Performance Lab Pre-Workout contains no stimulants (or banned substances either).
- Take a Sleep Supplement – Rather than taking the medical route, trying out a natural sleep supplement such as Sleep by Performance Lab can really help make a difference. It contains high doses of l-tryptophan and magnesium which has been shown to improve sleep quality as well as quantity. Tart Cherry juice is also seen as the next big thing when it comes to sleep, as it provides a natural version of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Performance Lab Sleep is non-addictive, there is no need to cycle it and it is again free from banned substances.
- Avoid Blue Light an Hour Before Bed. The blue light emitted by our electronic devices, such as telephones, tablets and laptops, confuses the body’s natural circadian rhythms and melatonin production. Switching off an hour before bed will help to avoid this. Performance Lab Sleep, of course, has been designed to counteract this with ingredients such as the Montmorency Tart Cherry which both provide natural melatonin and encourage your own melatonin production.
Sleeping ten hours per day is going to make a significant difference to your performance as a student athlete. Improved reaction time, sprint speed, decision making, and reduced physical and mental fatigue are qualities that will benefit any type of sport. Failing that, aiming for eight hours of sleep is a minimum.
Right now, a lot of studies are looking at sleep quality vs sleep quantity. It may well be the case that if you can improve the quality of the sleep you have, you’ll need less sleep to produce the same results. Either way, looking for ways to improve both should transform your performance.
If you do want supplement help, an all-natural supplement such as Performance Lab Sleep is ideal for student athletes, especially as it can safely be stacked with Performance Lab Mind for added brain power.