Insomnia: An athlete’s worst rival?

Remember when people used to say things like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” or they’d brag about only needing four hours of shuteye a night? Let’s blame those claims on 1980s Corporate America. It’s when 90-hour workweeks became trendy and meth hit the scene. Hey, we all make mistakes. But although a collective obsession with productivity still misguides some of our nocturnal priorities, sleep is cool again! Even professional athletes – the incarnations of “more, better, faster” – are speaking out about the dangers of sleep deprivation.

According to the article Anonymous GM on Sleep Deprivation: NBA Has ‘A Large Population of Vampires,’ chronic sleeplessness among pro basketball players is “a dirty little secret that everyone [in the NBA] knows about” one that Philadelphia 76ers’ Tobias Harris compares to concussions in the NFL. As Harris implies, people are finally starting to acknowledge the longstanding, serious issue of the NBA’s insomnia epidemic, just as NFL officials opened a dialogue about football concussions after years of silence.   

It turns out, NBA players are only human, and they run best on seven to nine hours of sleep like the rest of us adults. Numerous studies reveal sleep deprivation’s negative impact on athletes’ aerobic endurance, neuromuscular performance, motor control and balance. For instance, this experiment suggests that sleep deprivation can negate the results of athletic conditioning, causing performance to decline despite an increase in training efforts. This one shows that athletes reach exhaustion quicker than usual after a night of sleeplessness.

Since most sports require brain and brawn, athletes should also consider how sleep impacts cognitive performance. Both acute and chronic sleep deprivation can downgrade people’s ability to focus, remember things, make decisions, employ sound judgment, control their emotional reactions and more. It may also eventually lead to dementia.

That said, whether you’re an athlete or not, getting ample shuteye is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Adults who sleep less than seven hours a night – which includes 30% of Americans –  tend to suffer from higher rates of obesity, coronary heart disease, asthma, cancer, depression and diabetes. So if your eyelid is twitching because you stayed up watching Netflix, or you’re dreading another fitful night of desperate attempts to conk out, you may want to read this article for some simple insomnia remedies.