Sleeping for an additional hour for a week before an athletic event may boost your performance, say scientists who found that short-term sleep extension improves response time and daytime functioning. Researchers found that after five nights of sleep extension, professional baseball players demonstrated a 13 per cent improvement on a cognitive processing speed test by reacting 122 milliseconds faster. They also responded 66 milliseconds faster on a test of selective attention when confronted with distractors.
“Our research indicates that short-term sleep extension of one additional hour for five days demonstrated benefits on athletes’ visual search abilities to quickly respond when faced with distractors,” said Cheri D Mah, research fellow at the University of California San Francisco in the US. A ball takes approximately 400 milliseconds to travel from the pitcher to the hitter, requiring batters to have optimal visual search strategies to distinguish and react to different types of pitches, researchers said. Researchers conducted a trial during a four-week training camp. About 17 professional baseball players completed a two-day baseline of habitual sleep. Athletes were then randomised to either five nights of sleep extension or five nights of habitual sleep.
Researchers conducted cognitive tests, visual search tasks, and evaluated mood and daytime sleepiness. They found that in the sleep extension group, the objective, estimated sleep duration increased by 0.6 hours per night from 6.3 to 6.9 hours. Assessments of fatigue, tension, and daytime sleepiness all decreased by more than one-third after sleep extension,researchers said. Fatigue over a season can negatively impact performance and possibly pitch recognition, researchers said. “These findings suggest that short-term sleep loading during periods of high training volumes may be a practical recovery strategy and fatigue countermeasure that has daytime performance benefits,” Mah said. The study appears in the journal Sleep.