Between classes, extracurricular activities and much-needed study breaks, sleep can be a luxury rarely offered to college students. However, sleep can take on a whole new meaning as a collegiate athlete. The individual sleeping habits of college varsity athletes can be fruitful or detrimental to their performance on and off the court.
But how many hours of sleep should athletes be getting in a night? While the average person gets between five and ten hours of sleep a night, athletes log in hours that are above the average, due to the strenuous activities their bodies undergo, according to the Better Sleep Council, a non-profit organization that advocates the importance of sleep (bettersleep.org)
Whitman’s head athletic trainer, believes that sleep can vary from athlete to athlete.
“Everyone is different, but an average of eight hours a night is sufficient,” said Eckel.
Senior Eliza Vistica, a
member of the women’s cross-country team, believes that she has pretty consistent sleeping habits.
“I get between seven and eight hours of sleep a night. I go to bed before midnight every day, so I go to bed early and wake up early compared to most people. I never take naps, though,” said Vistica.
On the other hand, senior basketball player LuQuam Thompson takes an opposite approach to sleeping.
“I can get by without getting a lot of sleep. I usually go to bed pretty late, but I wake up super early compared to most students. However, I do take naps when I can,” said Thompson.
Studies have shown that sleep is linked to numerous health and performance benefits. Specifically, a study done in 2007 by Thomas Reilly and Ben Edwards that analyzes sleep cycles and physical performances of athletes supports the idea that sleep is necessary for its recuperative qualities.
“Persistent inadequate sleep, or successive nights of shortened or disrupted sleep, causes vulnerability to common colds and upper respiratory tract infections,” the study says. Furthermore, it also suggests that prolonged sleep taken by athletes is beneficial due to the immuno-suppression that occurs four to six hours after strenuous exercise.
According to the Better Sleep Council, “Without sufficient sleep, reaction times suffer, sustained performance drops off and there is a decline in overall physical functioning.” Furthermore, “Vigilance and alertness are compromised, which will result in poor performance and possibly lead to injury.”
Eckel certainly agrees and emphasizes the benefits of sleep for brain function.
“Sleep helps brain function not only for athletic performance, but academic as well. Studies have shown that performance is enhanced by sleep,” said Eckel.
Athletes like Vistica are also aware of the many benefits of sleep.
“I think that sleep is especially important so that athletes recover faster, especially after hard, strenuous workouts such as cross country races. I also think that it is necessary to avoid sickness. I always try to get more sleep whenever I feel like I am about to get sick,” said Vistica.
Though the health and performance benefits of sleep are pretty clear, Whitman varsity athletes feel that their sleep habits are trivial to how well they play.
Senior Elaine Whaley, a women’s golfer, likes logging in as many hours of sleep as she can but does not believe that it leads to an increase in her performance on the golf course.
“It really depends. It is debatable how much it helps me. There are some rounds that I do really well in while having barely slept any the night before and vice-versa,” said Whaley.
Whaley also adds that her quality of sleep is poor before a competition.
“I sleep, but I don’t sleep well because I am pre-occupied with my match,” she said.
Others like Thompson have pretty consistent sleeping habits no matter the circumstance.
“I sleep like a baby,” he said.
However, like Whaley, he does not know how much it factors into his performance.
“I can play a basketball game with a lot or little sleep,” said Thompson.
A good night’s sleep is ideal, but student athletes often take naps to catch up on rest. While the study by Reilly and Edwards suggests that naps are beneficial, “The effects of napping depend on their timing and duration, prior wake time, setting and individual differences.” Interestingly enough, “Those who habitually nap have been reported to derive greater subjective benefit from this practice than did subjects unaccustomed to napping,” the study says.
Eckel believes that naps refresh one’s body.
“Naps are most beneficial for students who do not get enough sleep,” said Eckel.
The sleeping habits of athletes are unique to each person. However, with all the health and performance benefits related to sleep as stated by studies and sources, athletes, and even students, should make it a priority.
“Your brain and body need sleep. That is when your body recovers,” said Eckel.