November 13, 2016
In the light of just losing an hour of daylight in the evening, I think it’s a good time to talk about sleep. I’m convinced that sleep is one of the MOST important aspects of a healthy individual that not only relates to obvious things like your focus and energy but also your metabolism, motivation, diet and decision making. All of these factors can influence how well you play tennis and for that matter, live your life. So let’s dive into this a bit more so you can start understanding just how important a good night’s rest is for you.
Sleep to Your Success
In the book, "Talent Code," Daniel Coyle notices that all hot beds of talent he visited had one thing in common. All the people working towards perfecting their craft took naps. Sleep seemed to be an essential part of becoming great in whatever they pursued. This makes sense as the amount of mental and physical strain needed for purposeful practice can only be sustained from a well-rested mind and body. Still not convinced? Let’s look at the science part of sleep.
What the Science Tells Us
The science of sleep is rather an interesting concept as we all know we need it but few of us can explain why. During sleep, our Glymphatic system, which removes waste from the brain, is at peak activity. Sleep is also essential for memory restoration. As you sleep, long-term memories are strengthened and restored. Probably the most useful part on the science of sleep is how it plays a role in your metabolic health. Studies show that people who sleep less than 6 hours a day compared to over 8 hours have less of their energy they use come from fat. This leads to weight gain that we all try to avoid as we get older. Worst yet, the energy source of sleep deprived people come not only from carbohydrates but also protein, leading to muscle loss. Studies have also shown that weights in the gym feel 20% heavier for sleep deprived people than those who get the right amount of sleep.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Washington State University showed that not only does a lack of sleep impact your ability to focus but also that there is a thing called “sleep debt.” Basically if you are continually sleeping less hours than you should (let’s say 6 hours), you will eventually get to a point that your brain is functioning as if you haven’t slept for days. Specifically, the researchers have concluded that, “6 hours per night of sleep for two weeks straight leads to mental and physical performance declines as if you haven’t slept for 48 hours.
The Counter Intuitive Argument
We all want to be efficient with our time and find ways to work smarter yet sleep has never been a focus point for this. We often sleep less to get more work done, but as you can see from the studies, this doesn’t work. If you are not getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night, you will eventually run into roadblocks toward your progress. When professional tennis players were polled about how much they sleep every day, it was found to be an average of 9 hours! This doesn’t mean that you average this just over the weekend to catch up on your sleep. If you don’t have the right level of focus during practices and matches, you are wasting precious time that you want to use towards improving as a tennis player.
With all of this research showing how important sleep is, we can improve our quality and quantity of sleep knowing that the main factors that impact our sleep is stress and light. If our minds are still on work or the next day, it will be hard to get our brains to “power down.” Artificial light from electronics can also keep your melatonin levels from increasing, which alerts the body to get ready for bed. There are plenty of tips that can help you sleep better but regardless of what you choose, it’s important to put sleep on a higher priority list than you have it. For example, if your favorite show on Netflix is a ritual for you to lay in bed and watch before bed, your priority of entertainment is more important than your sleep. This cannot happen if you want to reach the high levels of tennis performance that needs all the mental and physical exertions you can give. Putting yourself into the mindset of a professional tennis player gives more clarity in priorities. Performance is important to anyone that relies on it to make money. From CEOs of companies to teachers in the classroom, they rely on making quick decisions based on sound judgment that resides from a clear mind. This is no different if you want to perform well on the tennis court. Once you see the gains you get from the extra sleep, you will look at sleep from a whole different perspective.