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New ways to improve sports performance – without drugs (7/8/11)

July 8, 2011

Can Active Rest Improve Sports Performance?


What’s the difference between the best athletes in the world and the next best? Fame, glory, fortune – and inches, millimeters, and milliseconds.  With so many superb athletes so closely matched anything that gives you an edge can help – and when it comes to some championships, that aid can appear near miraculous.

Which is why we have continuous doping scandals, use of growth hormones and “unlisted” drugs throughout sports and grand juries investigating baseball – people will go to great lengths to find that “edge.”   Athletes like Roger Clemons and Lance Armstrong go from heroes to a generation to accused standing in the dock, said to use drugs that may provide short term benefit but later provoke severe, chronic disease.

Yet sometimes the edge is natural.  What you need is knowledge, practice, and the understanding of when to use knowledge of how your body really works.

Such is the case with rest, and how the body rebuilds and regenerates – which it does with extraordinary quickness. Athletes must pay special attention to regeneration – that’s how they stay in the game – and win. And recently two studies showed very difference way of how different aspects of rest can improve peak performance.

Though anyone can benefit, no matter their age or sport.


Sleep and Basketball

Cheri Mah has an enviable job as assistant to the great sleep researcher Dr. Bill Dement at Stanford, and she knows it.  The two have been looking at athletes for some time, and this month’s issue of  “Sleep” points out their latest study on sleep and sports performance – in the Stanford Basketball team. Students were asked to normally sleep for 2-4 weeks, then spend 5-7 weeks sleeping 10 hours a night during the season.  Though most did not actually sleep 10 hours, here are the results: 😦


Shooting percentage –  3 pt. field goals – up 9.2%

Shooting percentage – foul line up 9%

Sprints – decrease from 16.2 seconds to 15.5 second average

Also better mood, less fatigue, faster reaction times


Does the NBA know about this? Yes.  The head of Sleep Medicine at Harvard, Dr. Charles Czeisler, has been instrumental in getting rid of early morning practices and recommending at least 8 to 8.5 hours sleep a night for NBA professionals.


Why Does More Rest Work?

Sleep rewires brain and body at night.  Lots of learning – including for new physical moves – takes place while you sleep, as brain connections are made and pruned.  High levels of physical activity cause the production of new brain cells – in memory areas – that will be used within the next couple of days.

And people’s mood and memory are overall improved.  As they say in Brooklyn, what’s not to like?

Now let’s turn to baseball.


Baseball, Body Clocks and Rest

Want to make a new world record, or even just a personal one?  Try your sport in the late afternoon to early evening – around 5-6 PM.  A disproportionate number of records occur at this time.

Yet not everyone will do well.  There are morning types and evening types – larks and owls – who perform very different at different times of day.

Including in Major League Baseball.

Dr. Christopher Winter and others at Martha Jefferson Hospital’s Sleep Disorder Center in Charlottesville have been tracking biological clock effects on professional athletes for some time.  Their most recent study was presented at the recent Minneapolis Sleep Research meetings, involving 16 MLB batters from 7 teams – 9 of whom were morning “larks”, 7 of whom were night “owls”, and whose batting records were tracked for the 2009 and 2010 seasons.

In professional baseball, people fly a lot.  Jet lag was counted as taking 24 hours to adjust per time zone – as jet lag had previously been shown by the group to affect the performance of players and who won the games.  Early play games started before 2 PM; midday games were 14:00 to 20:00; nighttime was for play there after ( – see abtract 488.

Here were the batting percentages and number of innings for the larks and owls:


Early play (2149 innings)         Larks’ batting percentage .267  Owls’.259

Mid play  (4550 innings)          Larks .252   Owls .261

Night-time play (750 innings)  Larks .252    Owls .306


These differences are not small.  Larks play better early, owls play better late – and the differences at night were quite significant.


  What You Can Do


Humans are built to continuously rebuild themselves.  They do this particularly well if they know how their bodies are designed – and use that knowledge.

The two studies above are small, but consistent with numerous other results.  To get the edge you want, you need to know how to rest.

As for sleep: 1. Determine how many hours is your normal sleep allotment to feel your best (you can see “The Power of Rest” for details, but simply noting how much sleep you normally each night a week into a relaxing vacation should provide useful information). 2. Particularly during season, try to protect that amount of time for sleep.

Which means no electronic media at least an hour before bedtime – and resting intelligently before you sleep – so that you really rest during the night, rewiring and remaking your brain.

As for body clocks:  Determine if you are lark, owl, or in-between (You can check “The Body Clock Advantage” for one very simple check list or use the Horne Ostberg scale  (

When you are playing in phase – early when you’re a lark, late when you’re an owl, don’t worry – as long as you’re getting sufficient sleep and have techniques of active rest at your disposal, you should be able to obtain a state of relaxed, alert concentration.

When out of phase – use light.  Light is a drug – and a powerful one.  The main principle to use that is early light makes you earlier, and late night light makes your inner clocks later.

Early morning light – as in walking in the morning – can be extremely useful to owls playing morning games.  Larks performing at night may, outside of the summer months, want to use light boxes to get their body clocks set up so they’ll be ready and in full gear.

There are many nuances to using light – and sometimes melatonin – to resetting body clocks.  And frequent travels changes all factors regarding sleep.  But what matters is regenerating your body – every hour of every day.  Know how to do that and you can get an edge in sports performance – and most every other kind of performance as well.




Rest, sleep, Sarasota Sleep Doctor, well-being, regeneration, longevity, body clocks, insomnia, sleep disorders, the rest doctor, matthew edlund, the power of rest, the body clock, psychology today, huffington post, redbook, longboat key news

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