What is the secret to Usain Bolt’s record-breaking speed?
1: The margin of victory in professional athletics is often slight. In the Olympics, the difference between the gold medal winner and the last-place finisher is often only seconds or even fractions of a second.
“On this team, we fight for that inch,” Al Pacino growls in Any Given Sunday [aside: Great speech! Terrible movie….].
Indeed. Finding a competitive advantage is critical. Which is why Sleep Researcher Dr. Matthew Walker‘s phone never stops ringing.
“Standing in front of the manager, staff, and players, I tell them about one of the most sophisticated, potent, and powerful-not to mention legal-performance enhancers that has real game-winning potential: sleep,” writes Matthew in his terrific book Why We Sleep.
2: Matthew’s guidance is clear: “Obtain anything less than eight hours of sleep a night, and especially less than six hours a night, and the following happens: physical exhaustion drops by 10 to 30 percent, and aerobic output is significantly reduced,” he notes.
Matthew measured the sleep of NBA star Andre Iguodala of the Golden State Warriors, comparing games when he slept more than eight hours vs. those when we slept less than eight hours. The data speaks for itself: a 29% increase in points per minute, a 9% increase in free-throw percentage, a 37% decrease in turnovers, and a 43% decrease in fouls committed.
“Add to this marked impairments in cardiovascular, metabolic, and respiratory capabilities that hamper an under slept body,” notes Matthew, “including faster rates of lactic acid buildup, reductions in blood oxygen saturation, and converse increases in blood carbon dioxide, due in part to reduction in the amount of air that the lungs can expire.”
What’s the greatest fear for competitive athletes and their teams, which view their players as prized financial investments? Injury risk.
Once again, the data is clear: Over the course of a season, with an average of 6 hours of sleep, the percentage chance of injury is 73%, 7 hours: 60%, 8 hours: 34%, and 9 hours: 18%.
3: Naps can also improve physical performance. Matthew’s notes: “Daytime naps that contain sufficient numbers of sleep spindles also offer significant motor skill memory improvement, together with a restoring benefit of perceived energy and reduced muscle fatigue.”
Perhaps the best evidence of all?
Superstar Olympic Gold medalist Usain Bolt is known to take naps in the hours before breaking world records, and before Olympic finals in which he won gold.
Reflection: Am I getting enough sleep? Do I prioritize sleep?
Action: Track my sleep over the next two weeks, using a Fitbit, Oura ring, or by manually tracking.