Sleep: An athlete’s secret weapon

By Brett Beil, CSCS

I like to ask the kids I work with three questions each time they come in to work with me; how are you feeling today? What did you eat for breakfast today?  How many hours of sleep did you get last night?  Most times, the number of hours of sleep they report is far less than the 8-10 hours recommended by the National Sleep Foundation.   At this point, they give me a look of disbelief and quite possibly ponder how far off they may currently be.  The National Sleep Research Project states that if it takes you less than 5 minutes to fall asleep, you are sleep deprived.  I will be honest; I usually fall asleep when my head hits the pillow.  That is not a great thing considering that it should actually take you 10-15 minutes to zonk out.

Certified strength and conditioning specialist, Brett Beil, with Sanford POWER in Fargo, NDI try to give the athletes at POWER an idea of how a good night of sleep can affect their performance.  It can improve their reaction time, reduce their rate of injury, enhance their accuracy, increase their sprint times, and help them to make fewer mental errors.  I know these all sound attractive to a kid interested in improving their overall performance. I hope at this point of our conversation, they are at least listening.

I really try to hit a home run when I tell the athletes that newly crowned Australian Open winner, Roger Federer, gets between 11 and 12 hours of sleep per night AND that NBA basketball player, LeBron James, gets 12 hours of sleep per night.  Their eyes get big at this point of our conversation and the wheels in their minds really start turning.

I do believe that Sleep is a secret weapon for athletes of all ages.  I have seen first hand incredible workouts performed by well-rested athletes.  I have also gotten a front row seat while the tired athlete struggles with what seems like the simplest tasks.

I spent this week getting an extra hour of sleep each night and my focus, strength, confidence, and quality of workouts were all sharper than in previous weeks.  It re-energized me to continue to make this talk a high priority with all my athletes.  According to the Huffington Post, 90% of American high school students are chronically sleep deprived.  It is an uphill battle, but one that I am ready to fight.