Super Bowl Hopefuls Should Get Extra Sleep Now

A researcher studying how sleep impacts athletic performance says NFL players hoping to compete in next month’s Super Bowl should work toward reducing or eliminating their sleep debt immediately, so their bodies can perform at peak efficiency when it comes time for the big game.

Sleep researcher Cheri Mah from the Stanford University Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory says that if a player on one of the playoff teams is running a sleep debt, that debt can’t be erased overnight.  A sleep debt is accumulated when an individual gets less rest than their body needs.

“I think the take-home that we’ve started to understand is that it’s not just one night of really good sleep or one week,” said Mah.  “It’s something that you need to prioritize each and every day if you’re going to be at your peak performance.”


Read a transcript of our interview with sleep researcher Cheri Mah

However, Mah says sleep doesn’t appear to be something that is a priority for most professional sports franchises.  While the players might be in peak physical condition, if they’re not well-rested they won’t get the most from their training.

“To my understanding, most of these NFL teams don’t focus on sleep and recovery as highly as they do the physical training, the nutrition and the coaching.  Especially when you get to the professional level, they’re flying all over the country … left and right, east and west.  Most teams, to my understanding, don’t really account for jetlag and the time differences and work out scheduling so it physiologically maximizes the benefit to their athletes.”

Mah offers the following tips to the members of the NFL elite who are hoping to win a championship:

  • Have a regular sleep schedule, with a consistant bedtime and wakeup time.
  • Work to eliminate your sleep debt by getting a little bit of extra sleep each night.  Even 30 extra minutes every night can help.
  • Create a perfect sleep environment.  The best place to sleep is cool, dark and quiet.
  • Prioritize sleep.  Make it a priority to get adequate sleep every day.

Sound like good advice for everyone?  It probably is.  Mah says that while she is focused specifically on athletes, there has been research to indicate that non-athletes can see a similar increase in performance at work or school by getting the proper amount of sleep.