Last week in class and lab we highlighted the importance of proper nutrition for the athlete. In order to perform at an optimal level, the right energy sources in the correct amounts need to be put in the body. However, exercising properly and fueling yourself with the right foods is only two-thirds of the equation to get the most out of your body. Another variable in our daily lives that can have just as significant an impact on athletic performance often overlooked by college students is sleep.
While some may think the body is at rest while sleeping, it is actually quite active in its efforts to restore, repair, and detoxify the body. During sleep, the body moves into an anabolic state to rebuild muscles and bone with the use of amino acids. Without the adequate amount of sleep, we tend to be less alert and not fully recovered from the previous day, minimizing the body’s future performance.
I have had first-hand experience with the detrimental effects of insufficient sleep during basketball season in high school. Attending a 6-day a week boarding school and playing several varsity sports often limited my studying to the early hours of the morning. Towards the end of the winter trimester my senior year, I had a final paper due the same day as one of our last home basketball games. Given how much work I had to do to finish the paper, I had no choice but to stay up into the early morning and get only a few hours of sleep.
The next morning I felt well enough, but by game time that afternoon, I was noticeably de-energized. This normally wouldn’t be a huge problem as the six post-graduates on the team played the majority of our games, leaving me on the bench. However, we quickly built a lead on our opponent and several of the reserves, including myself were put in the game early. After running up and down the court a few times, I realized something didn’t feel right: I was out of breath much sooner than usual, I had trouble focusing on the ball, and my feet were heavy. Dribbling the ball up court felt foreign in my hand and I was not confident in my shooting touch that I had so painstakingly developed over the course of the season. At the end of the game, I had missed several easy shots and turned the ball over twice. It was obvious that I did not take advantage of the opportunity to show my coaches how much I had improved in practice and I was quite disappointed in myself. It wasn’t until after the game that I realized my poor performance was due to lack of sleep. I learned the hard way how important it is to give your body the time it needs to recover and ever since I have paid close attention to my sleep schedule. Although it has become increasingly easier to delay sleep for the benefit of completing more school work through the use of caffeinated energy drinks, planning your schedule around a suitable amount of sleep will allow you to think clearer and get more out of your body in the waking hours.