Power Sleep for Peak Performance

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By: Dr. James B. Maas

You commit countless hours practicing your sport. You exercise yourself to the limit in strength and conditioning workouts. You carefully watch what you eat, and deny yourself anything lacking nutritional value. You think you’ve done everything necessary to prepare for competition, yet peak performance seems to be elusive. Sometimes you’re “in the zone” but more often than not, technical and artistic errors mar your presentation. So what’s limiting your capacity for excellence? It could be as fundamental as the quality and quantity of your sleep. (Related: 5 Ways to Switch Up Your Workout for Best Results)

To be fully alert, energetic and dynamic you must accept the fact that sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. While 43% of adults are moderately to severely sleep deprived, nearly every middle school, high school and college student is a walking zombie, The average teenager needs 9.25 hours of sleep every night to be fully alert, yet typically gets only 6 hours of nocturnal restoration and rejuvenation. This is a recipe for disaster, particularly when it comes to scholastic and athletic performance.

Here’s what happens when you don’t get enough sleep:

  • Daytime drowsiness. Inability to get through the day without a temporary loss in energy and alertness, usually in the mid-afternoon trough. Feelings of inattentiveness and grogginess, particularly when doing soporific or repetitive tasks. Especially likely to occur after a heavy meal, sitting in a warm room, listening to a boring lecture or participating in a dull meeting. These factors do not cause sleepiness. They simply unmask the physiological sleepiness already in your body.
  • Stress, anxiety and loss of coping skills. Overwhelming feelings of not being able to cope, even with simple problems or moderate work loads. Increase in worry, frustration and nervousness. Inability to maintain perspective, or to relax under even moderate pressure.
  • Brief episodes of sleep, lasting a few seconds at a time, which produce inattention, and can result in accidents and mistakes on the ice.
  • Feelings of lethargy. Loss of motivation to maintain present tasks or pursue new endavors.
  • Mood shifts, including depression, increased irritability, and loss of sense of humor. Mood is one of the first traits to be affected by sleep loss. With even minimal sleep loss, our threshold for anger is lowered. We can quickly lose friends, anger coaches and make enemies.
  • Lack of interest in socializing with others. Wanting to avoid group participation or interacting with others due to fatigue. Desire to disengage from the outside world.
  • Weight gain. Consumption of beverages and foods high in sugar content used as a “remedy” to keep awake when sleep deprived. Some people attempt to reduce anxiety or boredom through eating.
  • Feelings of being chilled. Often the result of trying to stay awake very late at night, after the circadian rhythm ebbs and causes body temperature to plummet.
  • Reduced immunity to disease and viral infection. Natural killer immune cells stop functioning as sleep deprivation increase, which leads to colds and health problems.

Imagine trying to skate well if any of the above detriments to performance are occurring because you are carrying a sleep debt. You might think it’s macho to get by on less than optimal sleep, but simply put, even modest sleep deprivation makes you stupid and can seriously affect your general health and longevity. (Related: 5 Ways to Avoid Workout Burnout)

On several occasions, I’ve had the marvelous opportunity of sharing a lecture podium with speedskaters Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen, both Olympic Games gold medalists. Dan says he needed ten hours of sleep when he was in training. Bonnie, the holder of the most gold medals (5) won by an American woman in any sport, says she was getting barely more than six before she heard me talk about the importance of sleep in determining performance. I’ve been teasing her ever since: “Just thinJust imagine how many more gold medals you would win if only you got more sleep!”

“Just imagine how many more gold medals you would win if only you got more sleep!”


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Dr. Maas and Haley Davis are authors of a new book, “Sleep to Win!” available on Dr. Maas gives widely acclaimed presentations to sports teams (from high school and university teams to NBA, NFL, NHL franchises and Olympic athletes. He offers plenty of great tips on how you can become a better athlete—literally, overnight. Many of his audiences go onto undefeated seasons or winwin gold win gold medals. For more information visit gold medals. For more information visit


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